Controllable synthesis of branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure
© Huang et al.; licensee Springer. 2014
Received: 30 April 2014
Accepted: 20 June 2014
Published: 30 June 2014
Skip to main content
© Huang et al.; licensee Springer. 2014
Received: 30 April 2014
Accepted: 20 June 2014
Published: 30 June 2014
A rational approach for creating branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure was developed based on a combination of three simple and cost-effective synthesis pathways. The crucial procedure included growth of crystalline Si nanowire arrays as backbones by chemical etching of Si substrates, deposition of ZnO thin film as a seed layer by magnetron sputtering, and fabrication of ZnO nanowire arrays as branches by hydrothermal growth. The successful synthesis of ZnO/Si heterogeneous nanostructures was confirmed by morphologic, structural, and optical characterizations. The roles of key experimental parameters, such as the etchant solution, the substrate direction, and the seed layer on the hierarchical nanostructure formation, were systematically investigated. It was demonstrated that an etchant solution with an appropriate redox potential of the oxidant was crucial for a moderate etching speed to achieve a well-aligned Si nanowire array with solid and round surface. Meanwhile, the presence of gravity gradient was a key issue for the growth of branched ZnO nanowire arrays. The substrate should be placed vertically or facedown in contrast to the solution surface during the hydrothermal growth. Otherwise, only the condensation of the ZnO nanoparticles took place in a form of film on the substrate surface. The seed layer played another important role in the growth of ZnO nanowire arrays, as it provided nucleation sites and determined the growing direction and density of the nanowire arrays for reducing the thermodynamic barrier. The results of this study might provide insight on the synthesis of hierarchical three-dimensional nanostructure materials and offer an approach for the development of complex devices and advanced applications.
One-dimensional (1D) nanomaterials have received increasing attention in nanodevices and nanotechnology due to their unique properties, such as large surface-to-volume ratio, nanocurvature effect, and direct pathway for charge transportation . Most importantly, they may be the building blocks of complex two- and three-dimensional (2D and 3D) architectures [2, 3]. Among the 1D nanomaterials, Si nanowires are considered to be a promising candidate for the components of solar energy harvesting systems . The advantages of Si nanowires lie in their low-energy bandgap (Eg = 1.12 eV)  that can absorb sunlight efficiently as well as the fundamental materials in current photovoltaic market. However, some serious troubles may be encountered in applying the Si nanowires merely in the optoelectronics and photocatalysis as photoelectrodes. First, the materials are easy to be corroded in electrolyte. Second, the Si possesses high valence band maximum energy that is thermodynamically impossible to oxidize water spontaneously [5, 6]. Third, the surface-to-volume ratio may be limited for the 1D nanostructures. To address these issues, the surface of the Si nanowires can be coated by a layer of metal oxides that resists the electrolyte corrosion and also modulates the energy diagram between the Si and the electrolyte. On the other hand, the surface area can be further increased by hierarchical assembly of 1D nanostructures into 2D or 3D nanostructures. In this sense, 3D branched ZnO/Si or TiO2/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure are the most favorite choice, as the ZnO and TiO2 nanowire branches not only extend the outer space above the substrate but also display stable physical and chemical properties in electrolytes [5, 7–9]. In addition, the conduction and valence band-edges of ZnO and TiO2 just straddle H2O/H2 and OH−/O2− redox levels and thus satisfy a mandatory requirement for spontaneous photosplitting of water . In contrast with TiO2, ZnO is more flexible to form textured coating in different types of nanostructures by anisotropic growth [11–14]. Therefore, the branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure have attracted more and more researchers' interest since their first successful synthesis in 2010 [9, 15–20]. Want et al. fabricated the ZnO/Si nanowire arrays by a solution etching/growth method and applied them in photodetectors . The specimen presented a high photodetection sensitivity with an on/off ratio larger than 250 and a peak photoresponsivity of 12.8 mA/W at 900 nm. They also used them in photoelectrochemical cells and found that the 3D nanowire heterostructures demonstrated large enhancement in photocathodic current density (an achieved value as high as 8 mA/cm2) and overall hydrogen evolution kinetics . Kim synthesized the ZnO/Si nanowire arrays by combining nanosphere lithography and solution process . The sample was used in solar cells and exhibited an enhanced photovoltaic efficiency by more than 25% and an improved short circuit current by over 45% compared to the planar solar cells. Nevertheless, all the above reports are chiefly concentrating on the specimen's performance either on photocatalysis or on optoelectronics. The basic issues, the growth mechanism and the role of key growth parameters on the hierarchical structure formation, are actually neglected. Since the function of the ZnO/Si nanowire arrays primarily depends on the composition distribution and nanostructure feature, a systematic research about the influence of different growth parameters on the hierarchical nanostructure formation is crucial to the controllable synthesis as well as the related applications.
With the above considerations, in this letter, we proposed a rational routine for creating branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure. The specimens were synthesized through growth of crystalline Si nanowire arrays as backbones first, subsequent deposition of ZnO thin film as a seed layer on the surface of the backbones, and final hydrothermal growth of ZnO nanowire branches. The successful synthesis of ZnO/Si heterogeneous nanostructures was confirmed by the results of scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), photoluminescence (PL), and reflectance spectra. The experimental parameters, such as the solution type, the substrate direction, and the seed layer, were systematically investigated to determine the optimum growth conditions of the ZnO/Si hierarchical nanostructures.
P-type, boron-doped (100) Si wafers with a resistivity of 1 to 10 Ω cm and a thickness of 450 μm were purchased from Shanghai Guangwei Electronic Materials Co. Ltd (Shanghai, China). Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) 30%, nitric acid (HNO3) 65%, sulfuric acid (H2SO4) 95%, hydrochloric acid (HCl) 36%, hydrofluoric acid (HF) 40%, toluene (C6H5CH3), acetone (C3H6O), ethanol (C2H5OH), zinc acetate dihydrate (Zn(CH3COO)2 · 2H2O), and hexamethylenetetramin (C6H12N4) were all bought from Xilong Chemical Co. Ltd (Guangdong, China). Silver nitrate (AgNO3) was ordered from the First Regent Factory (Shanghai, China). Distilled water (H2O) with resistivity higher than 18.0 MΩ cm was purified by a hi-tech laboratory water purification system. All the solvents and chemicals used in the experiments were at least reagent grade and were used as received.
Next, a layer of ZnO film with 25 nm in thickness was deposited on the surface of the Si nanowire arrays by a radio-frequency magnetron sputtering system. In order to achieve a uniform distribution of the seed layer, the sputtering was performed in a working pressure of 1.5 mTorr with a deposition rate of 3 nm/min. Afterward, the substrates were transferred into an oven and annealed at 500°C in nitrogen atmosphere for 30 min to obtain a tough adherence between the seed layer and the Si backbones.
Last, hierarchically branched ZnO nanowires were synthesized on the top and sidewall of the Si nanowires by a hydrothermal growth approach. In brief, the seeded samples were soaked vertically in aqueous solution of 25 mM Zn(CH3COO)2 · 2H2O and 25 mM C6H12N4 at 90°C in a glass beaker supported by a magnetic stirring apparatus. The hydrothermal process was conducted for a time period to control the length of the ZnO nanowires. After the reaction, the as-grown samples were removed from the solution, rinsed with deionized water, and then dried in air.
The morphology and size distribution of the products were characterized by a LEO-1530 field-emission SEM (Carl Zeiss AG, Oberkochen, Germany) with an accelerating voltage of 20.0 kV. Chemical composition of the specimens was analyzed using an EDS as attached on the SEM. Structural quality of the nanowire arrays was evaluated by an X’Pert PRO XRD (PANalytical Instruments, Almelo, Netherlands) with Cu Kα radiation (λ = 1.54056 Å). The PL spectra of the samples were collected on a Hitachi F-7000 fluorescence spectrophotometer (Hitachi, Tokyo, Japan) with an excitation wavelength of 325 nm. Optical reflectance measurements were performed on an Agilent Cary-5000 UV-vis-NIR spectrophotometer (Agilent Technologies, Sta. Clara, CA, USA). All the measurements were carried out at room temperature in normal conditions.
The structural evolution of the as-grown specimens that underwent 30-min chemical etching and 2-h hydrothermal growth (S30Z2) is presented in the right panels of Figure 1. It can be seen that after chemical etching in step 1 (Figure 1e), free-standing Si nanowire arrays in a wafer scale are produced on the substrate surface in a vertical alignment. The Si nanowire arrays have a length of about 2.5 μm and a diameter ranging between 30 and 150 nm. The growth rate of the nanowire length is about 1.4 nm/s and almost keeps constant for different durations. The structure, growth rate, and diameter of the Si nanowires are primarily restricted by the components and concentration of etching solution, as corroborated by the following experiments. A layer of ZnO nanoparticles is subsequently deposited on the Si nanowire array in step 2 (Figure 1f). Due to the isotropic characteristic of the sputtering system, the ZnO nanoparticles conformally coat on the nanowires and induce a rough sidewall surface. After hydrothermal growth in step 3 (Figure 1g), branched ZnO nanowires grow hierarchically on the surface of the Si nanowires, which fills up the space between the Si nanowires and presents a flower shape on each Si nanowire tip for the radial growth.
Figure 3b presents the XRD pattern of the S30Z2 specimen. Except a peak originating from the Si backbones and substrate, all the diffraction peaks are well indexed to those of hexagonal wurtzite ZnO (ICSD no. 086254), and no diffraction peaks of any other phases are detected. Moreover, there is no dominant peak in the wurtzite structure, which should be a result of the random orientation of the ZnO nanowires on the Si nanowire surface, as well supported by the SEM images in Figures 1g and 2.
The PL spectrum of the S30Z2 sample shown in Figure 3c consists of a weak ultraviolet peak at around 375 nm and a dominant blue emission at 440 nm with a broad feature in the range of 392 to 487 nm. The ultraviolet band corresponds to the near band-edge emission from ZnO branches [7, 24], while the blue band is generally ascribed to the radial recombination of a photogenerated hole with electron in a single ionized oxygen vacancy in the surface lattice of the ZnO . However, the visible emission may also be related to the surface defects within silicon oxide layer on the Si backbones, as the silicon surface is facile to be oxidized by the ambient oxygen and its emission band seats in the similar wavelength range . Our experiments (not show here) indicate as well that only the blue emission band is present for the Si nanowire arrays, and the ultraviolet emission band is strengthened when the ZnO branches become denser or longer. Therefore, the weak ultraviolet emission and dominant blue band in the PL spectrum demonstrate the existence of ZnO and a large number of oxygen vacancies in the as-grown specimen.
A comparison of the hemispherical reflectance of the branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays and a flat silicon wafer is provided in Figure 3d. The reflectance of the arrays is less than 15% over the wavelength range from ultraviolet to the mid-infrared region, which is drastically decreased relative to that of the silicon wafer. This significant property suggests that the nanotrees might be a promising candidate of antireflective surfaces or photoelectronics and photocatalysis for sunlight harvest. The ultralow reflectance of the specimen may result from the enhanced light-trapping and scattering for rough surface and large surface area of the nanotree arrays, multiple scattering of light within the hierarchical structure, as well as an effective refractive index (RI) gradient from air (RI ≈ 1.0) through ZnO nanowire array (RI ≈ 2.0) to Si nanowire array and substrate (RI ≈ 3.5) . In addition, the abrupt drop in reflection is originated from band-edge absorption of the specimen . The direct and indirect bandgaps of the components can thus be estimated by the onset points, which are 397 nm (equal to 3.123 eV) for the direct bandgap of ZnO nanowire branches and 1,221 nm (equal to 1.015 eV) for the indirect bandgap of Si nanowire backbones. In contrast to the Si wafer value 1,213 nm (equal to 1.022 eV) or to the general value of bulk materials, 3.37 eV for ZnO  and 1.12 eV for Si , the bandgaps of the as-grown specimen are found to be faintly narrowed down, suggesting ideal components of the object. The small difference may be due to the presence of ionic vacancies and structural defects in the nanotrees, as testified in the PL spectrum.
Branched ZnO/Si nanowire arrays with hierarchical structure were synthesized by a three-step process, including the growth of crystalline Si nanowire arrays as backbones by chemical etching of Si substrates, the deposition of ZnO thin film as a seed layer by magnetron sputtering, and the fabrication of ZnO nanowires arrays as branches by hydrothermal growth. During the synthesis procedure, an etchant solution with an appropriate redox potential of the oxidant was vital for a moderate etching speed to achieve a well-aligned Si nanowire array with solid and round surface. Meanwhile, the presence of gravity gradient was a key issue for the growth of branched ZnO nanowire arrays. The substrate should be placed vertically or facedown in contrast to the solution surface during the hydrothermal grown. Otherwise, only the condensation of the ZnO nanoparticles took place in a form of film on the substrate surface. The seed layer played another important role in the growth of ZnO nanowire arrays, as it provided nucleation sites and determined the growing direction and density of the nanowire arrays for reducing the thermodynamic barrier.
This work was supported by 973 Program (2012CB619301, 2011CB925600), National Natural Science Foundation of China (61227009, 90921002), Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2012121014, 2013121009), and Fundamental Research Funds for the Xiamen Universities (DC2013081).
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.