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 high-quality 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 photocurrents of up to 177±27 mA cm-2 (1 sun illumination) and 320±40 mA cm-2 (2 sun illumination) at 1.23 V vs. RHE, maintaining such high photocurrents even down to ~0 V vs. RHE. These parameters permit effective operation even without any external electric bias, as demonstrated by bias-free 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, and pave the way for further applications in which high-quality PCN films are required.

Version notes

Version 02 (as of 29 October 2020)


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Supplementary material

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Scotch tape test