Investigating the interfacial process and bulk electrode chemistry in tungsten oxide electrochromic materials

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Virginia Tech


The growing need for high-performance electrode materials in electrochemical conversion and storage applications requires further fundamental investigation on the working and degradation mechanisms of these materials. Among various functional materials, transition metal oxides are still one of the main choices due to their tunable chemical compositions and diverse crystal structures in most aqueous and organic electrolytes. The charge transfer process mainly occurs at the electrode-electrolyte interface, and controlling the electrochemical interfacial stability represents a key challenge in developing sustainable and cost-effective electrochromic materials. The present thesis focuses on classical tungsten trioxide (WO3) materials as the platform to uncover the previously unknown interrelationship between phase transformation, morphological evolution, nanoscale color heterogeneity, and performance degradation in these materials during 3,000 cyclic voltammetry cycles. Through the application of novel cell design, synchrotron/electron spectroscopic, and imaging analyses, we observe that the interface between the WO3 electrode and 0.5 M sulfuric acid electrolyte undergoes constant changes due to the tungsten oxide dissolution and redeposition. The redeposition of dissolved tungsten species provokes in situ crystal growth, which ultimately leads to phase transformation from the semicrystalline WO3 to a nanoflake-shaped, proton-trapped tungsten trioxide dihydrate (HxWO3·2H2O). The multidimensional (surface and bulk) quantification of the electronic structure with X-ray measurements reveals that the tungsten reduction caused by proton trapping is heterogeneous at the nanometric scale and is responsible for the nanoscale color heterogeneity. The Coulombic efficiency, optical modulation, apparent diffusion coefficients, and switching kinetics are gradually diminished during 3,000 cyclic voltammetry cycles, resulting from the structural and chemical changes of the WO3 electrode. We hypothesize that the high interfacial reactivity in the electrode-electrolyte interfacial region could be the universal underlying mechanism leading to undesired bulk structural changes of inorganic electrochromic materials.



electrochromism, morphological evolution, phase transformation, charge heterogeneity, durability