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Indirect Bandgap and Optical Properties of Monoclinic Bismuth Vanadate

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Monoclinic scheelite bismuth vanadate (m-BiVO4) is a promising semiconductor photoanode for photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. Despite considerable recent progress in achieving improved photocurrents and photovoltages, there remain open questions about the basic optoelectronic properties of this material. Indeed, there is disagreement about the nature of its fundamental bandgap, with theoretical predictions and some experimental observations pointing to an indirect bandgap and other experimental studies to a direct bandgap. Knowledge of this property is critical for understanding light absorption and photocarrier properties, as well as for establishing rational approaches to improved efficiency. Here, experimental spectroscopic techniques are used to resolve this issue and provide a fundamental portrait of the optical properties of the material. Resonant inelastic X-ray scattering proves conclusively that m-BiVO4 is an indirect bandgap semiconductor. These measurements are supported by UV-vis absorption spectroscopy and spectroscopic ellipsometry, which confirm this finding and also indicate the presence of a direct transition located at 200 meV above the indirect one. The spectral dependence of the optical constants is determined by development of a photophysical model for the ellipsometric data. Photogenerated carrier dynamics are probed by transient absorption spectroscopy, which reveals a relatively long lifetime compared to other commonly utilized metal oxide photoanodes and is attributed to the indirect nature of the fundamental gap. The combination of strong visible light absorption and relatively long excited state lifetime provides the basis for the high performance that has been achieved from BiVO4 photoanodes for water splitting.

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