Metal oxide/Si heterostructures make up an exciting design route to high-performance electrodes for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. By monochromatic light sources, contributions of the individual layers in WO3/n-Si heterostructures are untangled. It shows that band bending near the WO3/n-Si interface is instrumental in charge separation and transport, and in generating a photovoltage that drives the PEC process. A thin metal layer inserted at the WO3/n-Si interface helps in establishing the relation among the band bending depth, the photovoltage, and the PEC activity. This discovery breaks with the dominant Z-scheme design idea, which focuses on increasing the conductivity of an interface layer to facilitate charge transport, but ignores the potential profile around the interface. Based on the analysis, a high-work-function metal is predicted to provide the best interface layer in WO3/n-Si heterojunctions. Indeed, the fabricated WO3/Pt/n-Si photoelectrodes exhibit a 2 times higher photocurrent density at 1.23 V versus reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE) and a 10 times enhancement at 1.6 V versus RHE compared to WO3/n-Si. Here, it is essential that the native SiO2 layer at the interface between Si and the metal is kept in order to prevent Fermi level pinning in the Schottky contact between the Si and the metal.
- PEC water splitting