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J Am Chem Soc. 2012 Dec 12;134(49):19993-6. doi: 10.1021/ja3095747. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Enhanced water oxidation on Ta3N5 photocatalysts by modification with alkaline metal salts.

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Department of Chemical System Engineering, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8656, Japan.


Tantalum nitride (Ta(3)N(5)) is a promising nitride semiconductor photocatalyst for solar water splitting because it has band edge potentials capable of producing hydrogen and oxygen from water under visible light (λ < 590 nm). However, the photocatalytic performance of Ta(3)N(5) has been far below expectations because insufficient crystallization upon thermal nitridation of the oxide precursors enhances undesirable charge recombination limiting the quantum efficiency of the photocatalytic reaction. This problem was successfully rectified in this study by modifying the surface of the starting Ta(2)O(5) with a small amount of alkaline metal (AM) salts. Compared with conventional Ta(3)N(5), Ta(3)N(5) nitrided from AM salt-modified Ta(2)O(5) had better crystallinity and smaller particles with smoother surfaces and, most importantly, demonstrated a 6-fold improvement in photocatalytic activity for O(2) evolution under visible light. AM salt modification was compatible with the loading of an O(2) evolution cocatalyst, such as CoO(x), yielding an apparent quantum efficiency of 5.2% at 500-600 nm. This indicates that the effects of AM modification were attributable to the changes in the crystallinity and the morphology of Ta(3)N(5) rather than to catalytic effects. Detailed characterization of the Na(2)CO(3)-modified Ta(3)N(5) suggested partial dissolution of Ta(2)O(5) and nucleation of NaTaO(3) in the early stages of nitridation, which gave rise to the characteristic particle morphologies and improved the crystallinity of the nitridation products. This study demonstrates that a facile pretreatment of a starting material can improve the physical and photocatalytic properties of photocatalysts drastically, enabling the development of advanced photocatalysts for solar water splitting.

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