Water-fed photo-electrolysis cells equipped with perfluorosulfonic acid (Nafion® 115) and quaternary ammonium-based (Fumatech® FAA3) ion exchange membranes as separator for hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions were investigated. Protonic or anionic ionomer dispersions were deposited on the electrodes to extend the interface with the electrolyte. The photo-anode consisted of a large band-gap Ti-oxide semiconductor. The effect of membrane characteristics on the photo-electrochemical conversion of solar energy was investigated for photo-voltage-driven electrolysis cells. Photo-electrolysis cells were also studied for operation under electrical bias-assisted mode. The pH of the membrane/ionomer had a paramount effect on the photo-electrolytic conversion. The anionic membrane showed enhanced performance compared to the Nafion®-based cell when just TiO₂ anatase was used as photo-anode. This was associated with better oxygen evolution kinetics in alkaline conditions compared to acidic environment. However, oxygen evolution kinetics in acidic conditions were significantly enhanced by using a Ti sub-oxide as surface promoter in order to facilitate the adsorption of OH species as precursors of oxygen evolution. However, the same surface promoter appeared to inhibit oxygen evolution in an alkaline environment probably as a consequence of the strong adsorption of OH species on the surface under such conditions. These results show that a proper combination of photo-anode and polymer electrolyte membrane is essential to maximize photo-electrolytic conversion.
Keywords: Ti-suboxides; TiO2; anion exchange polymer electrolyte membrane; photo-electrolysis; proton exchange polymer electrolyte membrane; water splitting.