A robust ALD-protected silicon-based hybrid photoelectrode for hydrogen evolution under aqueous conditions†
Hydrogen production through direct sunlight-driven water splitting in photo-electrochemical cells (PECs) is a promising solution for energy sourcing. PECs need to fulfill three criteria: sustainability, cost-effectiveness and stability. Here we report an efficient and stable photocathode platform for H2 evolution based on Earth-abundant elements. A p-type silicon surface was protected by atomic layer deposition (ALD) with a 15 nm TiO2 layer, on top of which a 300 nm mesoporous TiO2 layer was spin-coated. The cobalt diimine–dioxime molecular catalyst was covalently grafted onto TiO2 through phosphonate anchors and an additional 0.2 nm ALD-TiO2 layer was applied for stabilization. This assembly catalyzes water reduction into H2 in phosphate buffer (pH 7) with an onset potential of +0.47 V vs. RHE. The resulting current density is −1.3 ± 0.1 mA cm−2 at 0 V vs. RHE under AM 1.5 solar irradiation, corresponding to a turnover number of 260 per hour of operation and a turnover frequency of 0.071 s−1.