Understanding of charge transfer processes is determinant to the performance optimization for semiconductor photocatalysts. As a representative model of composite photocatalysts, metal-particle-decorated ZnO has been widely employed for a great deal of photocatalytic applications; however, the dependence of charge carrier dynamics on the metal content and metal composition and their correlation with the photocatalytic properties have seldom been reported. Here, the interfacial charge dynamics for metal-decorated ZnO nanocrystals were investigated and their correspondence with the photocatalytic properties was evaluated. The samples were prepared with a delicate antisolvent approach, in which ZnO nanocrystals were grown along with metal particle decoration in a deep eutectic solvent. By modulating the experimental conditions, the metal content (from 0.6 to 2.3 at%) and metal composition (including Ag, Au, and Pd) in the resulting metal-decorated ZnO could be readily controlled. Time-resolved photoluminescence spectra showed that an optimal Au content of 1.3 at% could effectuate the largest electron transfer rate constant for Au-decorated ZnO nanocrystals, in conformity with the highest photocatalytic efficiency observed. The relevance of charge carrier dynamics to the metal composition was also inspected and realized in terms of the energy level difference between ZnO and metal. Among the three metal-decorated ZnO samples tested, ZnO-Pd displayed the highest photocatalytic activity, fundamentally according with the largest electron transfer rate constant deduced in carrier dynamics measurements. The current work was the first study to present the correlations among charge carrier dynamics, metal content, metal composition, and the resultant photocatalytic properties for semiconductor/metal heterostructures. The findings not only helped to resolve the standing issues regarding the mechanistic foundation of photocatalysis but also shed light on the intelligent design of semiconductor/metal composite systems to consolidate their utility in photocatalytic fields.
- charge carrier dynamics
- semiconductor/metal heterostructures
- time-resolved photoluminescence