Cobalt-Phosphate Catalysts with Reduced Bivalent Co-Ion States and Doped Nitrogen Atoms Playing as Active Sites for Facile Adsorption, Fast Charge Transfer, and Robust Stability in Photoelectrochemical Water Oxidation
A cobalt phosphate (Co-Pi) catalyst having octahedral CoO6 molecular units as reaction sites is a key component in photoelectrochemical (PEC) water oxidation systems, but its limited adsorption sites for oxygen evolving intermediates (*OH, *OOH), slow charge transfer rates, and fast degradation of reaction sites are yet to be overcome. Here, we report that Co-Pi nanoparticles with low-coordinate Co ions and doped nitrogen atoms could be decorated on hematite nanorod arrays to form N-CoPi/hematite composites. Moreover, the local atomic configuration and bond distance studies show that trivalent Co3+ states are partially reduced through nitrogen radicals in the plasma to low-coordinate bivalent Co2+ states playing as the facile adsorption sites of oxygen-evolving intermediates due to the decreased activation barrier for water oxidation. Electron transport is also reinforced by nitrogen species due to the formation of hybridizing N 2p orbitals that give the acceptor levels in the bandgap. As a result, both the incident photon-to-electron conversion efficiency and the charge transfer resistance on N-CoPi/hematite outperform those on a bare hematite by about 3 fold. Furthermore, N-CoPi/hematite gives high activity retention over 90% after the long operation of water oxidation, in support of the reaction sites on N-CoPi not degrading during the successive water oxidation.