Sol–Gel Processing of Water-Soluble Carbon Nitride Enables High-Performance Photoanodes


In spite of the enormous promise that polymeric carbon nitride (PCN) materials hold for photoelectrochemical (PEC) applications, the fabrication of highly stable and photoactive PCN photoelectrodes has been a largely elusive goal to date. Here we tackle this challenge by devising, for the first time, a sol–gel approach that enables facile preparation of photoanodes based on poly(heptazine imide) (PHI), a polymer belonging to the PCN family. The sol–gel process capitalizes on the use of a water-soluble PHI precursor composed of nanosized (~10 nm) particles that allows formation of a non-covalent hydrogel. The hydrogel can be deposited on a conductive substrate resulting in formation of mechanically stable porous polymeric thin layers (~400 nm), in contrast to the commonly obtained loosely attached thick particulate coatings. The resulting photoanodes exhibit unprecedented PEC performance in methanol reforming in neutral pH electrolytes with very high photocurrents of 177±27 mA (1 sun illumination) cm-2 and 320±40 mA cm-2 (2 sun illumination) at 1.23 V vs. RHE, with very high photocurrents down to ~0 V vs. RHE. These parameters permit effective operation even without any external electric bias, as demonstrated by zero-bias photoreforming of methanol and glycerol, and highly selective (~100%) photooxidation of 4-methoxybenzyl alcohol (4-MBA). The robust binder-free films derived from sol–gel processing of water-soluble PCN thus represent a new paradigm for high-performance ‘soft-matter’ photoelectrocatalytic systems based on PCN.

Version notes

Version 01 (as of 23 October 2020)


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Supplementary material

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