Atomic force microscopy: Emerging illuminated and operando techniques for solar fuel research

Yu, W., Fu, HJ., Mueller, T., Brunschwig, BS., Lewis, NS.
J Chem Phys


Integrated photoelectrochemical devices rely on the synergy between components to efficiently generate sustainable fuels from sunlight. The micro- and/or nanoscale characteristics of the components and their interfaces often control critical processes of the device, such as charge-carrier generation, electron and ion transport, surface potentials, and electrocatalysis. Understanding the spatial properties and structure-property relationships of these components can provide insight into designing scalable and efficient solar fuel components and systems. These processes can be probed ex situ or in situ with nanometer-scale spatial resolution using emerging scanning-probe techniques based on atomic force microscopy (AFM). In this Perspective, we summarize recent developments of AFM-based techniques relevant to solar fuel research. We review recent progress in AFM for (1) steady-state and dynamic light-induced surface photovoltage measurements; (2) nanoelectrical conductive measurements to resolve charge-carrier heterogeneity and junction energetics; (3) operando investigations of morphological changes, as well as surface electrochemical potentials, currents, and photovoltages in liquids. Opportunities for research include: (1) control of ambient conditions for performing AFM measurements; (2) in situ visualization of corrosion and morphological evolution of electrodes; (3) operando AFM techniques to allow nanoscale mapping of local catalytic activities and photo-induced currents and potentials.

DOI: 10.1063/5.0009858