Dr. Sun smiling while standing in front of the synchroton.
Dr. Andy Sun at the Canadian Light Source.

Studies demonstrate the promise of phosphorene in electronics

Phosphorene is attracting a lot of attention lately in the energy and electronics industries, and for good reason. The theoretical capacity of the two-dimensional material—which consists of a single layer of black phosphorus—is almost seven times that of anode materials currently used in lithium-ion batteries. That could translate into real-world benefits such as significantly greater range for electric vehicles and longer battery life for cell phones.

There are a couple of strikes against phosphorene though. Commercially available black phosphorus is costly, at roughly $1000 per gram, and it breaks down quickly when it’s exposed to air. Researchers from Western University teamed up with scientists from the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan on a pair of studies to determine if they could address both issues.

In the first project, the research team applied a novel process to produce a low-cost black phosphorus from inexpensive (approximately $0.10/gram), low-purity red phosphorus—reducing the cost by almost 300%. The resulting black phosphorus had nearly the same purity and electronic properties as that made using traditional methods and high-purity red phosphorus, which is worth around $40/gram.

Dr. Sham in front of scientific equipment.
Dr. TK Sham at the SXRMB beamline at the CLS.

Drastically slashing the cost of manufacturing black phosphorus means their results are scalable, according to lead researcher Weihan Li from Western. “The low price makes it possible to realize the future large-scale application of black phosphorus and phosphorene in energy- and electronic-related fields, such as nano-photonics, nanoelectronics, optoelectronics, secondary batteries, and electrocatalysts,” said Li. 

With the second study, the researchers wanted to better understand, at nanoscale and in real time, where degradation (oxidization) starts on phosphorene, and how it spreads. While previous research has documented that degradation does indeed occur, this study was the first to clearly image the process in detail. The team used a number of different synchrotron techniques at the CLS to collect these images. The researchers found that phosphorene begins to break down at the thinnest regions first, and that the degraded regions accelerate the breakdown of adjacent regions.

A large group of people stand in front of a building at Western University.
The Andy Sun and TK Sham research group at Western University.

According to Li, their discovery paves the way for developing strategies to protect phosphorene when it is used in electronics and other devices. “It makes it possible to prepare air-stable phosphorene-based electronic devices and energy-related devices.”

Researcher Andy (Xueliang) Sun credits the CLS for playing a critical role in both studies. With the support of CLS staff scientists, he and the team used three different beamlines: SXRMB, SM and VLS-PGM. “Compared with other resources in the world, the user support from the CLS is fantastic,” said Sun. “Without the help of the CLS, we could not have combined several different synchrotron techniques in the two works. Moreover, conducting the in-situ studies would not have been possible without the help of the beamline scientists.”

Dr. Weihan Li is a postdoctoral fellow of the Andy Sun and Dr. Tsun-Kong (TK) Sham collaboration at Western University.

This research was funded by the Nature Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Research Chair Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, 3M Canada, the Ontario Research Fund, the Canada Light Source, and the University of Western Ontario.

Li, Weihan, Zhiqiang Wang, Feipeng Zhao, Minsi Li, Xuejie Gao, Yang Zhao, Jian Wang et al. "Phosphorene Degradation: Visualization and Quantification of Nanoscale Phase Evolution by Scanning Transmission X-ray Microscopy." Chemistry of Materials 32, no. 3 (2020): 1272-1280. DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.9b04811.

Written by Greg Basky. Photos related to this research.

For more information, contact:

Victoria Schramm
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source

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