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Single-nanowire photoelectrochemistry


Photoelectrochemistry1,2,3 is one of several promising approaches4,5 for the realization of efficient solar-to-fuel conversion. Recent work has shown that photoelectrodes made of semiconductor nano-/microwire arrays can have better photoelectrochemical performance6,7,8 than their planar counterparts because of their unique properties, such as high surface area9,10,11. Although considerable research effort has focused on studying wire arrays, the inhomogeneity in the geometry, doping, defects and catalyst loading present in such arrays can obscure the link between these properties and the photoelectrochemical performance of the wires, and correlating performance with the specific properties of individual wires is difficult because of ensemble averaging. Here, we show that a single-nanowire-based photoelectrode platform can be used to reliably probe the current–voltage (I–V) characteristics of individual nanowires. We find that the photovoltage output of ensemble array samples can be limited by poorly performing individual wires, which highlights the importance of improving nanowire homogeneity within an array. Furthermore, the platform allows the flux of photogenerated electrons to be quantified as a function of the lengths and diameters of individual nanowires, and we find that the flux over the entire nanowire surface (7–30 electrons nm–2 s–1) is significantly reduced as compared with that of a planar analogue (1,200 electrons nm–2 s–1). Such characterization of the photogenerated carrier flux at the semiconductor/electrolyte interface is essential for designing nanowire photoelectrodes that match the activity of their loaded electrocatalysts.

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Figure 1: Single-nanowire photoelectrode for PEC measurements.
Figure 2: Schematic illustrations of the fabrication and measurement processes.
Figure 3: PEC performance of the single-silicon-nanowire devices.
Figure 4: Analysis of the flux of photogenerated electrons.

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This work was supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, of the US Department of Energy (contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231, Pchem). Y.S. is supported by graduate fellowship support from USTC-Suzhou Industrial Park. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy was performed at the National Center of Electron Microscopy (NCEM) in the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The authors thank K. Sakimoto, J. Resasco, A. Wong, S. Eaton and J. Lim for discussions. The authors acknowledge the Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory for use of their facilities.

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Authors and Affiliations



Y.S., C.L. and P.Y. conceived and designed the experiments. Y.S., C.L., S.B. and J.T. fabricated the single-nanowire devices. Y.S. and C.L. performed the PEC measurements on single-nanowire devices. Y.S., C.L. and A.F. carried out the numerical calculation. Y.S. and Q.K. fabricated and characterized the nanowire array samples. N.K. carried out the high-resolution TEM imaging. Y.S., C.L. and P.Y. co-wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Peidong Yang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Su, Y., Liu, C., Brittman, S. et al. Single-nanowire photoelectrochemistry. Nature Nanotech 11, 609–612 (2016).

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