Indirect bandgap, optoelectronic properties, and photoelectrochemical characteristics of high-purity Ta3N5 photoelectrodes†
The (opto)electronic properties of Ta3N5 photoelectrodes are often dominated by defects, such as oxygen impurities, nitrogen vacancies, and low-valent Ta cations, impeding fundamental studies of its electronic structure, chemical stability, and photocarrier transport. Here, we explore the role of ammonia annealing following direct reactive magnetron sputtering of tantalum nitride thin films, achieving near-ideal stoichiometry, with significantly reduced native defect and oxygen impurity concentrations. By analyzing structural, optical, and photoelectrochemical properties as a function of ammonia annealing temperature, we provide new insights into the basic semiconductor properties of Ta3N5, as well as the role of defects on its optoelectronic characteristics. Both the crystallinity and material quality improve up to 940 °C, due to elimination of oxygen impurities. Even higher annealing temperatures cause material decomposition and introduce additional disorder within the Ta3N5 lattice, leading to reduced photoelectrochemical performance. Overall, the high material quality enables us to unambiguously identify the nature of the Ta3N5 bandgap as indirect, thereby resolving a long-standing controversy regarding the most fundamental characteristic of this material as a semiconductor. The compact morphology, low defect content, and high optoelectronic quality of these films provide a basis for further optimization of photoanodes and may open up further application opportunities beyond photoelectrochemical energy conversion.