Synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopic and microscopic techniques are used to identify the origin of enhancement of the photoelectrochemical (PEC) properties of BiVO4 (BVO) that is coated on ZnO nanodendrites (hereafter referred to as BVO/ZnO). The atomic and electronic structures of core-shell BVO/ZnO nanodendrites have been well-characterized, and the heterojunction has been determined to favor the migration of charge carriers under the PEC condition. The variation of charge density between ZnO and BVO in core-shell BVO/ZnO nanodendrites with many unpaired O 2p-derived states at the interface forms interfacial oxygen defects and yields a band gap of approximately 2.6 eV in BVO/ZnO nanocomposites. Atomic structural distortions at the interface of BVO/ZnO nanodendrites, which support the fact that there are many interfacial oxygen defects, affect the O 2p-V 3d hybridization and reduce the crystal field energy 10Dq ∼2.1 eV. Such an interfacial atomic/electronic structure and band gap modulation increase the efficiency of absorption of solar light and electron-hole separation. This study provides evidence that the interfacial oxygen defects act as a trapping center and are critical for the charge transfer, retarding electron-hole recombination, and high absorption of visible light, which can result in favorable PEC properties of a nanostructured core-shell BVO/ZnO heterojunction. Insights into the local atomic and electronic structures of the BVO/ZnO heterojunction support the fabrication of semiconductor heterojunctions with optimal compositions and an optimal interface, which are sought to maximize solar light utilization and the transportation of charge carriers for PEC water splitting and related applications.
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