Photoexcited carriers recombination and trapping in spherical vs faceted TiO2 nanoparticles

by G. Fazio, L. Ferrighi and C. Di Valentin
Nano Energy 2016, 27, 673–689         View at Publisher
DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2016.08.003

Nanoparticles of very small size (below 10 nm) of TiO2 material are nowadays the functional building blocks of many developing technological applications. Nano is clearly different from bulk or extended systems as regards surface area, molecular binding properties, charge separation efficiency, electron/hole transport, photochemical conversion properties, etc. In this work, we investigate the life path of energy (excitons) and charge (electrons and holes) carriers in anatase TiO2 nanoparticles of different size (2–3 nm) and shape (faceted vs spherical), by means of a wide set of hybrid density functional theory calculations. The attention is focused on the exciton/charge carriers formation, separation, recombination, self-trapping processes, which are analyzed in terms of structural deformations, energy gain or cost, charge localization/delocalization and electronic transitions involved. The computational models are corroborated by an extensive comparison with available experimental data based on photoluminescence measurements, electron paramagnetic resonance and transient absorption spectroscopies. Peculiar differences are observed for spherical nanoparticles with respect to faceted ones because of the higher disorder and larger diversity of coordination sites present on the surface. For example, charge delocalization on several lattice sites is more competitive with self-trapping processes in faceted than in spherical nanoparticles. This relates to the fact that selective compression or elongation of Ti-O bonds play a key role in determining the effectiveness of trapping sites, with spherical nanoparticles being more flexible. Moreover, hydroxyl groups on surface five-fold coordinated Ti sites are also found to be good hole trapping sites.