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Title: A Metastable p-Type Semiconductor as a Defect-Tolerant Photoelectrode
A p-type Cu3Ta7O19 semiconductor was synthesized using a CuCl flux-based approach and investigated for its crystalline structure and photoelectrochemical properties. The semiconductor was found to be metastable, i.e., thermodynamically unstable, and to slowly oxidize at its surfaces upon heating in air, yielding CuO as nano-sized islands. However, the bulk crystalline structure was maintained, with up to 50% Cu(I)-vacancies and a concomitant oxidation of the Cu(I) to Cu(II) cations within the structure. Thermogravimetric and magnetic susceptibility measurements showed the formation of increasing amounts of Cu(II) cations, according to the following reaction: Cu3Ta7O19 + x/2 O2 → Cu(3−x)Ta7O19 + x CuO (surface) (x = 0 to ~0.8). With minor amounts of surface oxidation, the cathodic photocurrents of the polycrystalline films increase significantly, from <0.1 mA cm−2 up to >0.5 mA cm−2, under visible-light irradiation (pH = 6.3; irradiant powder density of ~500 mW cm−2) at an applied bias of −0.6 V vs. SCE. Electronic structure calculations revealed that its defect tolerance arises from the antibonding nature of its valence band edge, with the formation of defect states in resonance with the valence band, rather than as mid-gap states that function as recombination centers. Thus, the metastable Cu(I)-containing semiconductor was demonstrated to possess more » a high defect tolerance, which facilitates its high cathodic photocurrents. « less
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