The role of the domain size and titanium dopant in nanocrystalline hematite thin films for water photolysis†
Here we develop a novel technique for preparing high quality Ti-doped hematite thin films for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting, through sputtering deposition of metallic iron films from an iron target embedded with titanium (dopants) pellets, followed by a thermal oxidation step that turns the metal films into doped hematite. It is found that the hematite domain size can be tuned from ∼10 nm to over 100 nm by adjusting the sputtering atmosphere from more oxidative to mostly inert. The better crystallinity at a larger domain size ensures excellent PEC water splitting performance, leading to record high photocurrent from pure planar hematite thin films on FTO substrates. Titanium doping further enhances the PEC performance of hematite photoanodes. The photocurrent is improved by 50%, with a titanium dopant concentration as low as 0.5 atom%. It is also found that the role of the titanium dopant in improving the PEC performance is not apparently related to the films’ electrical conductivity which had been widely believed, but is more likely due to the passivation of surface defects by the titanium dopants.