Spectroelectrochemical Studies of Surface Species in the Gold/Thiosulfate System

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Hope, Greg

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Brown, Chris

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This thesis presents results of studies using the technique of surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectroscopy to investigate surface processes occurring on gold during electrochemical experiments in thiosulfate solutions and during leaching in ammoniacal copper(II) thiosulfate systems. The gold SERS electrode was characterised using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDX), linear sweep voltammetry (LSV) and cyclic voltammetry (CV). SEM investigations of the SERS activated gold surface showed the presence of electrodeposited dendrites with nanoscale features. XRD studies of the dendrites showed them to be polycrystalline with a large proportion of Au(111). Rotating disk electrode (RDE) studies of polished and SERS electrodes were undertaken in order to clarify the electrochemistry of various thiosulfate systems. The ex situ techniques of XPS and attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy were used to determine the presence of sulfur, copper and nitrogen on leached or electro-oxidised surfaces. Voltammetric methods were used to determine sulfur and copper surface coverages at various potentials in sulfide, thiosulfate and ammoniacal copper(II) thiosulfate media. The electro-oxidation of sulfide was examined as a model system in order to identify spectral features and coverage associated with various potential-dependent sulfur layers. In the hydrogen evolution region, a surface layer formed by underpotential deposition in acid and basic media was characterised by a gold-sulfur stretching band, ï ®Au-S, attributed in the literature to a monoatomic stretching mode of sulfur bonded to gold. The surface coverage in this potential region was limited to 0.35 ML, representing adsorption in a (3x3)R30ï‚° structure. Bands were found to be absent that would have indicated the adsorption of SH– species as has been reported in the literature. A facile change in the position of the ï ®Au-S band with potential, unaccompanied by Faradaic processes, was seen when the adsorbed (3x3)R30ï‚° sulfur layer was examined in a sulfide-free solution. This may indicate a change in sulfur adsorption sites with potential in the hydrogen evolution region. At potentials above the S II/S0 reversible value in sulfide solutions, the surface coverage increased and ï ®S-S bands were observed, indicating the formation of an adsorbed polysulfide species, Au-Sn. A change in the position of the ï ®Au-S band was seen to accompany the formation of the ï ®S-S bands. As coverage further increased, bands due to S-S-S bending, ï ¤S-S-S, developed that were characteristic of cyclo octasulfur, S8. On removal from sulfide solution and rinsing, a characteristic SERS spectrum was observed ex situ. The spectrum showed a characteristic ï ®S-S at 460 cm-1 and ï ®Au-S at 325 cm-1 and was assigned to an adlayer of S8 adsorbed on gold in a crown configuration, Au S8. Gold was polarised in thiosulfate solutions at a potential at which gold dissolution is known to occur. In situ SERS spectra showed bands characteristic of S-S bonding and Au2S to occur after 1 hr for thiosulfate with sodium and ammonium counter-ions and for both systems in the presence of ammonia. XPS studies of polished gold held in sodium thiosulfate under these conditions showed S 2p binding energies corresponding to metal sulfide and pyritic sulfur, S22-. After 72 hrs at the mixed potential in air saturated sodium thiosulfate, SERS investigations showed a spectrum with Au-S8 characteristics. XPS studies on a polished electrode under these conditions showed a third type of S 2p binding with a binding energy between that of pyritic sulfur and S8. The sodium thiosulfate system showed an adsorbed tetrathionate-like surface species, Au-S4O6, to be present at the mixed potential and to disappear with increased potential prior to the formation of bulk S8 via an Au-S8 intermediate. In the presence of the ammonium cation at high potentials, Au-Sn bands appear in the presence of a more intense and broad ï ®Au-S characteristic of gold sulfide, Au2S. This was assigned to a mixed gold sulfide/polysulfide phase, Au2S/Sn. With addition of ammonia, the surface species Au S4O6, Au2S/Sn and, tentatively, adsorbed NH3 were observed above the mixed potential. For gold in air-saturated copper(II) ammoniacal thiosulfate media, bands due ï ®S-S at 382 cm-1 and symmetric S-O stretching, ï ®symS-O, at 1017 cm-1 developed during leaching at the mixed potential. These modes diminished and, when rinsed and examined in water, were replaced by a single band at 255 cm 1 assigned to a metal sulfide stretch. In typical leach solutions, sulfur and copper coverages showed a 2:1 atomic ratio after leaching for 16 h. Ex situ ATR and XPS studies showed that ammonia was adsorbed to a surface copper sulfide. Kinetic studies using atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) to measure gold in solution showed that the ammoniacal copper(II) thiosulfate leaching solution exhibited higher dissolution rates in the presence of the sodium counter ion than the ammonium. Thiourea as an additive to thiosulfate solutions was seen to disrupt S-S bonding in both Au-S8 and Au2S/Sn surface structures.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Biomolecular and Physical Sciences

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surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy


Raman scattering



electrochemical experiments

surface processes

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