Nitrogen-doped semiconducting oxides. Implications on photochemical, photocatalytic and electronic properties derived from EPR spectroscopy
Engineering defects in semiconducting metal oxides is a challenge that remains at the forefront of materials chemistry research. Nitrogen has emerged as one of the most attractive elements able to tune the photochemical and photocatalytic properties of semiconducting oxides, boosting visible-light harvesting and charge separation events, key elements in promoting solar driven chemical reactions. Doping with nitrogen is also a strategy suggested to obtain p-type conduction properties in oxides showing n-type features in their pristine state and to impart collective magnetic properties to the same systems. Here, we review the evolution in the understanding of the role of nitrogen doping in modifying the photochemical and electronic properties of the most common semiconducting oxides used in mentioned applications including: TiO2, ZnO, SnO2 and zirconium titanates. With an emphasis on polycrystalline materials, we highlight the unique role of Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectroscopy in the direct detection of open-shell N-based defects and in the definition of their structural and electronic properties. Synthetic strategies for the insertion of nitrogen defects in the various matrices are also discussed, along with the influence of the corresponding low-lying energy states on the general electronic properties of the doped solids.