High-resolution characterization of hexagonal boron nitride coatings exposed to aqueous and air oxidative environments
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- Jiang, L., Xiao, N., Wang, B. et al. Nano Res. (2017) 10: 2046. doi:10.1007/s12274-016-1393-2
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Hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) is believed to offer better passivation to metallic surfaces than graphene owing to its insulating nature, which facilitates blocking the flow of electrons, thereby preventing the occurrence of galvanic reactions. Nevertheless, this may not be the case when an h-BN-protected material is exposed to aqueous environments. In this work, we analyzed the stability of mono and multilayer h-BN stacks exposed to H2O2 and atmospheric conditions. Our experiments revealed that monolayer h-BN is as inefficient as graphene as a protective coating when exposed to H2O2. Multilayer h-BN offered a good degree of protection. Monolayer h-BN was found to be ineffective in an air atmosphere as well. Even a 10–15 layers-thick h-BN stack could not completely protect the surface of the metal under consideration. By combining Auger electron spectroscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry techniques, we observed that oxygen could diffuse through the grain boundaries of the h-BN stack to reach the metallic substrate. Fortunately, because of the diffusive nature of the process, the oxidized area did not increase with time once a saturated state was reached. This makes multilayer (not monolayer) h-BN a suitable long-term oxidation barrier. Oxygen infiltration could not be observed by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. This technique cannot assess the chemical composition of the deeper layers of a material. Hence, the previous reports, which relied on XPS to analyze the passivating properties of h-BN and graphene, may have ignored some important subsurface phenomena. The results obtained in this study provide new insights into the passivating properties of mono and multilayer h-BN in aqueous media and the degradation kinetics of h-BN-coated metals exposed to an air environment.