The crystal structure and phase purity of the fabricated photocatalysts were confirmed by X-ray diffraction studies. The XRD patterns of the pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4 and NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites are presented in Fig. 1a. In Fig. 1a, the diffraction patterns of NiMoO4 exhibits monoclinic phase structure and are well indexed in correlation with JCPDS No. 45–0142 (He et al. 2014). The tetragonal phase structure of the BiOI seem to be well matched with JCPDS No. 10–0445 (Bavani et al. 2021). The NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites shows decrease in the peak intensity of BiOI on adding NiMoO4. But there are no characteristic peaks of NiMoO4 are noticed, due to the low concentration of NiMoO4 in the NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite. Figure 1b displays the FT-IR spectrum of bare BiOI, bare NiMoO4 and different NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite photocatalysts. From the Fig. 1b, the peaks observed at 478 and 597 cm− 1 are due to Bi-O and I-O bond and the broad band at 3476 and 1628 cm− 1 corresponds to the stretching and bending vibration modes of the O-H bond for the water molecules adsorbed on the surface (Bavani et al. 2021). For NiMoO4, the band located at 471 cm− 1 is associated with Mo-O-Mo bond and the peak present at 863 and 1092 cm− 1 are the asymmetric and symmetric stretching vibrations of the Mo = O linkage. The Mo-O-Ni band at 722 cm− 1 and the bending and stretching vibrations of O-H are placed at 1616 and 3416 cm− 1 (Mengting et al. 2020). As for composites, it is noticed that the peaks of both NiMoO4 and BiOI are seen in NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites and the peak intensities of NiMoO4 seems to be increasing with the increasing amounts of NiMoO4 in BiOI, thus clearly showing the formation of the NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite between the BiOI and NiMoO4.
TEM analysis clearly provides the details on the insights of the morphology and crystalline structure of the photocatalysts. Figure 3 shows the TEM and HR-TEM images of the pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4 and the optimized NMBI-1 nanocomposite photocatalyst. While, Fig. 3a shows the a nanoplate like structure of the 2D-BiOI and the nanorod like morphology of the 1D-NiMoO4 is presented in the Fig. 3b. In the case of optimized NMBI-1 nanocomposite, the NiMoO4 nanorods are irregularly arranged on the surface of the BiOI nanoplate, which confirms the formation of the 1D/2D-NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite (Fig. 3c). Here, the Fig. 3d-e shows the high magnification images of TEM (HR-TEM) and SAED pattern of NMBI-1 nanocomposite. The lattice fringes values of 0.253 and 0.295 nm corresponds to (001) and (102) planes of NiMoO4 and BiOI respectively. Further the energy dispersive X-ray spectrum (EDAX) provides the information about the elements present in the NMBI-1 nanocomposite (Fig. 4a). As seen in Fig. 4a, Bi, Ni, Mo, I and O are present in the NMBI-1 nanocomposite, here both the elements of the BiOI and NiMoO4 are present and it confirms the absence of other impurities are noticed in the composite which exposes the purity of the synthesized photocatalyst. Additionally, Fig. 4b displays the elemental mapping images of the optimized NMBI-1 nanocomposite that clearly shows the presence of the Bi, Ni, I, Mo and O elements in the composite. Moreover, the EDAX and elemental mapping studies confirms the formation of the NiMoO4/BiOI composite between NiMoO4 and BiOI without any impurities.
The optical characteristics of the photocatalysts were investigated by UV- visible diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (UV- DRS) and photoluminescence (PL) analysis. Figure 5a displays the UV-vis DRS of the as-prepared photocatalysts and the band gap energy (Eg) values of the photocatalysts that are calculated using Kubelka-Munk function as given in Eq. (1) (Priya et al. 2018)
α hυ = A (hυ-Eg)n/2 (1)
Here, α, h, υ, A, Eg and n are the absorption coefficient, Plank’s constant, light frequency, proportionality constant, bandgap energy value and nature of transition respectively. From Fig. 5b, the Eg values are calculated in accordance to (αhν)1/2 Vs hν plot and are given as 1.94, 2.43, 1.64, 1.78, 1.85 eV that corresponds to pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4, NMBI-1, NMBI-2, NMBI-3, NMBI-4 nanocomposite photocatalysts. Here, the Eg values of different NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites are noted to be comparatively lower than both the pure BiOI and NiMoO4. Whereas, the Eg values of the NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites seem to gradually increase by the addition of NiMoO4 to pure BiOI. The lower Eg values of NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite photocatalysts indicates higher absorption in the visible region as well as higher photocatalytic activity by reducing the rapid rejoining of the photogenerated e−/h+.
Photoluminescence (PL) spectrum discloses the transfer and separation ability of the photoexcited charge carriers on the surface of the semiconductor. Figure 6 is the PL spectrum of pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4 and different NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite photocatalysts at excitation wavelength of 320 nm. As seen in Fig. 6, the different NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite photocatalysts delivers relatively lower PL emission peak intensity compared to pure BiOI and NiMoO4. This inferred that NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposites exhibits the lower recombination of charge carriers, as it accelerates the charge transfer and separation efficiency and favors the enhanced photocatalytic performance. Similarly, the higher PL emission peak intensity directs greater reconnection of the charge carriers. As observed, the PL intensity shows a decreasing trend NMBI-1 > NMBI-2 > NMBI-3 > BiOI > NiMoO4. Herein, the 1 wt % of NiMoO4 in the BiOI shows a lesser PL emission, so it is expected to show greater photocatalytic degradation performance towards MB.
3.1. Photoelectrochemical performance
The photoelectrochemical performance delivers the charge transfer and separation efficiency of the e−/h+ pairs. Figure 7 displays the transient photocurrent response and Nyquist plot for the pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4 and optimized NMBI-1 nanocomposite photocatalyst. Here, the optimized NMBI-1 nanocomposite has higher photocurrent response than the pure BiOI and NiMoO4, which reveals the higher separation and lower reconnection of e−-h+ pairs. The transfer and separation of the charge carriers are further investigated by the electrochemical impedance spectrum (EIS) as shown in Fig. 7a. From the Fig. 7b, the optimized NMBI-1 heterostructure exhibits smaller semicircular diameter than BiOI and NiMoO4, which reflects in lower charge transfer resistance and also assumed to reduce the rapid rejoining of the e−/h+ pairs. Hence, the optimized NMBI-1 heterostructure has higher separation and reduced recombination of the charge carriers and is expected to show superior photocatalytic performance.
3.2. Photocatalytic performances
Under illumination of visible light, the photocatalytic performance of the as-synthesized photocatalysts are explored to evaluate against the degradation of MB. The Fig. 8a presents the photocatalytic degradation plots of pure BiOI, pure NiMoO4 and NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite. As noticed, there is no notable change observed in the self-degradation of MB. On the other hand, as shown in Fig. 8b, the NiMoO4/BiOI (NMBI-1, 2 and 3) nanocomposites has a significant improvement in the photocatalytic degradegradation (92.7, 66 and 45.5%) than the pure BiOI (40.7%) and NiMoO4 (25.8%). In the series of NiMoO4/BiOI composites, the 1 wt% of NiMoO4 in BiOI (NMBI-1) displayed a maximum photocatalytic ability towards MB degradation. This is due to the lower band gap that led to the effective absorption in the visible region and the nanocomposite formation between the semiconductors. This is expected to reduce the rapid reconnection and increased transfer and separation efficiency of e−-h+ pairs. However, the photocatalytic activity of the NiMoO4/BiOI composites decreased above the addition of 1 wt% due to excessive NiMoO4 on the surface of the BiOI. Thus, the photocatalytic degradation performance decreased in the following manner as NMBI-1 > NMBI-2 > NMBI-3 > BiOI > NiMoO4.
As observed in Fig. 8c, the photocatalytic activity of NiMoO4/BiOI composites towards MB degradation follows the pseudo first order kinetics as expressed using the following equation (Priya et al. 2020).
ln(C0/C) = kt (2)
Where, k is the rate constant, t is the irradiation time (min) and C0 and C are the concentration at initial and different time intervals. Figure 8c displays the rate constant values of all the as-prepared photocatalysts. The rate constant value for NMBI-1 is 0.0442 min− 1 and found to be around 12 and 5 times higher than the pure NiMoO4 and BiOI respectively. This represents that there is a formation of NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite between NiMoO4 and BiOI, which considerably increases the separation of the e−-h+ pairs.
In the view of practical execution, it is essential to study the influence of catalyst dosage, reusability and stability nature of the photocatalyst. Figure 8d shows the effect of NMBI-1 catalyst dosage on the degradation of MB, by using different catalyst amount of 0.5, 0.1, 1.5 and 0.2 gL− 1. The increasing photodegradation performance is noted till 1.0 gL− 1 of catalyst, after which a decrease in dye degradation is noted. This is mainly attributed to the formation of turbidity in the high dosage of catalyst, that led to the scattering of light. Apart from this, the reusability and stability are the most important factors for large-scale operations. Hence, at the end of every cycle, the photocatalyst was collected by centrifugation and dried at 80 oC for 3 h and then reintroduced in the next cycle. Figure 9a demonstrates the reusability and photostability characteristics of NMBI-1 nanocomposite, as it reveals the high catalytic stability after four cycles, thus proving the optimized NMBI-1 composite as a potential material for the remediation of wastewater. However, Fig. 9b, shows no significant change in the XRD pattern of NMBI-1 before and after recycling tests. These results too supported the stable nature of the synthesized photocatalyst material.
Besides the stability, major active species in the photocatalytic degradation of MB using the optimized NMBI-1 composite is studied by the radical trapping experiments. Various, radical trapping agents namely, benzoquinone (BQ, 1mM), ammonium oxalate (AO, 1mM), isopropyl alcohol (IPA, 1mM) are used to suppress the O2.−, h+, .OH radicals respectively (Priya et al. 2018). As in Fig. 9b, no notable effect in photodegradation i observed using BQ which indicates the O2.− is not an active species in the degradation of MB. Meanwhile, the degradation efficiency is found to considerably decreased on adding of AO and IPA revealing the active role of .OH and h+ in the degradation of MB.
3.3. Photocatalytic degradation mechanism
The conduction band (CB) and valence band (VB) potentials of the photocatalysts were calculated by using the following Eqs. (3) and (4), (Senthil et al. 2021)
E VB = X – Ee + 0.5 Eg (3)
E CB = EVB – Eg (4)
Where, EVB and ECB are the valence band and conduction band potentials respectively. Here, Eg, Ee and X are band gap energy value, energy of free electrons (4.5 eV) and electronegativity of the photocatalyst respectively. The electronegativity of the pure BiOI and pure NiMoO4 are 5.936 and 6.176 eV respectively. Based on the above equation, the calculated ECB and EVB values of BiOI nanoplate are 0.471 and 2.40 eV respectively. Additionally, the ECB and EVB values of NiMoO4 nanorods are 0.461 and 2.89 eV respectively.
According to the mechanism explained, both BiOI and NiMoO4 are get excited under VLI and produce holes and electrons on the CB and VB correspondingly. The e− on the CB level of NiMoO4 moves towards the corresponding level of BiOI and similarly the h+ on the VB level of the NiMoO4 migrates to the respective level of the BiOI. Thus, photoproduced e− and h+ are effectively separated and easily transferred in the well fabricated interface of the 1D/2D-NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite, thereby, reducing the rapid rejoining of the e−/h+ pairs to increase the photocatalytic degradation activity of MB under VLI. On the basis of obtained results, the possible charge transfer mechanism for the degradation of MB using 1D/2D-NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite under VLI is displayed in Fig. 10. The results are found to disclose the fabricated 1D/2D-NiMoO4/BiOI nanocomposite photocatalyst as a potential material to be used for wastewater treatment applications.