Critical Coupling of Visible Light Extends Hot-Electron Lifetimes for HO Synthesis

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Devices driven by above-equilibrium "hot" electrons are appealing for photocatalytic technologies, such as in situ HO synthesis, but currently suffer from low (<1%) overall quantum efficiencies. Gold nanostructures excited by visible light generate hot electrons that can inject into a neighboring semiconductor to drive electrochemical reactions. Here, we designed and studied a metal-insulator-metal (MIM) structure of Au nanoparticles on a ZnO/TiO/Al film stack, deposited through room-temperature, lithography-free methods. Light absorption, electron injection efficiency, and photocatalytic yield in this device are superior in comparison to the same stack without Al. Our device absorbs >60% of light at the Au localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) peak near 530 nm-a 5-fold enhancement in Au absorption due to critical coupling to an Al film. Furthermore, we show through ultrafast pump-probe spectroscopy that the Al-coupled samples exhibit a nearly 5-fold improvement in hot-electron injection efficiency as compared to a non-Al device, with the hot-electron lifetimes extending to >2 ps in devices photoexcited with fluence of 0.1 mJ cm. The use of an Al film also enhances the photocatalytic yield of HO more than 3-fold in a visible-light-driven reactor. Altogether, we show that the critical coupling of Al films to Au nanoparticles is a low-cost, lithography-free method for improving visible-light capture, extending hot-carrier lifetimes, and ultimately increasing the rate of in situ HO generation.

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ACS applied materials & interfaces

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