High Quantum Efficiency Hot Electron Electrochemistry

Nano Lett. 2019 Sep 11;19(9):6227-6234. doi: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b02289. Epub 2019 Aug 30.


Using hot electrons to drive electrochemical reactions has drawn considerable interest in driving high-barrier reactions and enabling efficient solar to fuel conversion. However, the conversion efficiency from hot electrons to electrochemical products is typically low due to high hot electron scattering rates. Here, it is shown that the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in an acidic solution can be efficiently modulated by hot electrons injected into a thin gold film by an Au-Al2O3-Si metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) junction. Despite the large scattering rates in gold, it is shown that the hot electron driven HER can reach quantum efficiencies as high as ∼85% with a shift in the onset of hydrogen evolution by ∼0.6 V. By simultaneously measuring the currents from the solution, gold, and silicon terminals during the experiments, we find that the HER rate can be decomposed into three components: (i) thermal electron, corresponding to the thermal electron distribution in gold; (ii) hot electron, corresponding to electrons injected from silicon into gold which drive the HER before fully thermalizing; and (iii) silicon direct injection, corresponding to electrons injected from Si into gold that drive the HER before electron-electron scattering occurs. Through a series of control experiments, we eliminate the possibility of the observed HER rate modulation coming from lateral resistivity of the thin gold film, pinholes in the gold, oxidation of the MIS device, and measurement circuit artifacts. Next, we theoretically evaluate the feasibility of hot electron injection modifying the available supply of electrons. Considering electron-electron and electron-phonon scattering, we track how hot electrons injected at different energies interact with the gold-solution interface as they scatter and thermalize. The simulator is first used to reproduce other published experimental pump-probe hot electron measurements, and then simulate the experimental conditions used here. These simulations predict that hot electron injection first increases the supply of electrons to the gold-solution interface at higher energies by several orders of magnitude and causes a peaked electron interaction with the gold-solution interface at the electron injection energy. The first prediction corresponds to the observed hot electron electrochemical current, while the second prediction corresponds to the observed silicon direct injection current. These results indicate that MIS devices offer a versatile platform for hot electron sources that can efficiently drive electrochemical reactions.

Keywords: MIS devices; Monte Carlo simulation; hot electron; hydrogen evolution reaction; quantum efficiency; scattering mechanism.