Structure-Composition-Activity Relationships in Transition-Metal Oxide and Oxyhydroxide Oxygen-Evolution Electrocatalysts
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Solar water-splitting is a potentially transformative renewable energy technology. Slow kinetics of the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) limit the efficiency of solar-water-splitting devices, thus constituting a hurdle to widespread implementation of this technology. Catalysts must be stable under highly oxidizing conditions in aqueous electrolyte and minimally absorb light. A grand goal of OER catalysis research is the design of new materials with higher efficiencies enabled by comprehensive understanding of the fundamental chemistry behind catalyst activity. However, little progress has been made towards this goal to date. This dissertation details work addressing major challenges in the field of OER catalysis. Chapter I introduces the current state-of-the-art and challenges in the field. Chapter II highlights work using ultra-thin films as a platform for fundamental study and comparison of catalyst activity. Key results of this work are (1) the identification of a Ni0.9Fe0.1OOH catalyst displaying the highest OER activity in base to date and (2) that in base, many transition-metal oxides transform to layered oxyhydroxide materials which are the active catalysts. The latter result is critical in the context of understanding structure-activity relationships in OER catalysts. Chapter III explores the optical properties of these catalysts, using in situ spectroelectrochemistry to quantify their optical absorption. A new figure-of-merit for catalyst performance is developed which considers both optical and kinetic losses due to the catalyst and describes how these factors together affect the efficiency of composite semiconductor/catalyst photoanodes. In Chapter IV, the fundamental structure-composition-activity relationships in Ni1-xFexOOH catalysts are systematically investigated. This work shows that nearly all previous studies of Ni-based catalysts were likely affected by the presence of Fe impurities, a realization which holds significant weight for future study of Ni-based catalyst materials. Chapter V discusses the synthesis of tin-titanium oxide nanoparticles with tunable lattice constants. These materials could be used to make high-surface-area supports for thin layers of OER catalysts, which is important for maximizing catalyst surface area, minimizing the use of precious-metal catalysts, and optimizing 3D structure for enhanced mass/bubble transport. Finally, Chapter VI summarizes this work and outlines directions for future research. This work contains previously published and unpublished co-authored material.