Growth evolution and phase transition from chalcocite to digenite in nanocrystalline copper sulfide: Morphological, optical and electrical properties

  1. Priscilla Vasthi Quintana-Ramirez1,
  2. Ma. Concepción Arenas-Arrocena2,§,
  3. José Santos-Cruz3,
  4. Marina Vega-González4,
  5. Omar Martínez-Alvarez5,
  6. Víctor Manuel Castaño-Meneses6,
  7. Laura Susana Acosta-Torres2 and
  8. Javier de la Fuente-Hernández2

1Posgrado en Ciencia e Ingeniería de Materiales, Centro de Física Aplicada y Tecnología Avanzada, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 76230, Querétaro, México
2Escuela Nacional de Estudios Superiores Unidad León, UNAM, Boulevard UNAM No. 2011 Predio el Saucillo y el Potrero, 36969, León Guanajuato, México
3Facultad de Química, Materiales Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, 76010, Querétaro, México

4Centro de Geociencias, UNAM, 76230, Querétaro, México
5Departamento de Ingeniería en Energía, Universidad Politécnica de Guanajuato, 38483, Guanajuato, México
6Departamento de Ingeniería Molecular de Materiales, CFATA, UNAM, 76230, Querétaro, México

  1. Corresponding author email

§ Phone: + 52 - 477 1943418

This article is part of the Thematic Series "Physics, chemistry and biology of functional nanostructures II".

Guest Editor: A. S. Sidorenko
Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2014, 5, 1542–1552.
Received 08 May 2014, Accepted 26 Aug 2014, Published 15 Sep 2014


Copper sulfide is a promising p-type inorganic semiconductor for optoelectronic devices such as solar cells, due its small band gap energy and its electrical properties. In this work nanocrystalline copper sulfide (CuxS), with two stoichiometric ratios (x = 2, 1.8) was obtained by one-pot synthesis at 220, 230, 240 and 260 °C in an organic solvent and amorphous CuxS was obtained in aqueous solution. Nanoparticle-like nucleation centers are formed at lower temperatures (220 °C), mixtures of morphologies (nanorods, nanodisks and nanoprisms) are seen at 230 and 240 °C, in which the nanodisks are predominant, while big hexagonal/prismatic crystals are obtained at 260 °C according to TEM results. A mixture of chalcocite and digenite phases was found at 230 and 240 °C, while a clear transition to a pure digenite phase was seen at 260 °C. The evolution of morphology and transition of phases is consistent to the electrical, optical, and morphological properties of the copper sulfide. In fact, digenite Cu1.8S is less resistive (346 Ω/sq) and has a lower energy band gap (1.6 eV) than chalcocite Cu2S (5.72 × 105 Ω/sq, 1.87 eV). Low resistivity was also obtained in CuxS synthesized in aqueous solution, despite its amorphous structure. All CuxS products could be promising for optoelectronic applications.

Keywords: abundant materials in the crust of Earth; electrical resistance; nanocrystals; nanodisks; non-toxic semiconductors; optical band gap; phase transition; photocurrent


Metallic chalcogenides based on cadmium, such as cadmium telluride, CdTe, or cadmium sulfide, CdS, have been widely investigated regarding their application in the optoelectronic field, mainly in photovoltaic devices due to the semiconducting, electronic and optical properties [1-5]. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal, which limits its applications in the optoelectronic area. In fact, the current trend is to develop environment-friendly nanometric semiconductors with adequate optoelectronic properties for solar cells. It is well known that all properties (physical, chemical, magnetic) of nanometric materials differ from the bulk semiconductor due to the quantum effects [6]. Among the non-toxic nanomaterials with a small energy band gap that are promising for photovoltaic devices are: iron sulfide (FeS2), tungsten sulfide (WS2) and copper sulfide (Cu2S) [7]. The last is a terrestrially abundant and interesting semiconductor due to its stoichiometric variety usually depicted as CuxS. Copper-rich sulfides (Cu2S), CuxS with x = 0.03, 0.2, 0.25, and CuS are widely reported [8-27]. The stoichiometric ratio can be tailored by changing the concentration of copper or sulfide precursors, the reaction parameters and the kind of solvents. The following phases were obtained: djurleite (Cu1.97S), digenite (Cu1.8S) or analite (Cu1.75S) [8-29]. These crystalline phases are stable p-type compounds, which could be used as absorber materials in solar cells [30-32]. However, the exact identification of the crystalline structure is controversial due to the stock of 86 XRD patterns for CuxS, some of which have reflections with narrowly spaced positions (see Table 1). This proximity makes it difficult to clearly assign diffraction patterns to certain crystalline phases.

Table 1: Crystalline phases of copper sulfide from copper-rich (Cu2S) to the lower concentration of copper (CuS) prepared in organic and aqueous media reported in the literature [8-27].

JCPDS crystalline structure morphology position of reflections in [2θ, °] (respective crystallographic planes) band gap energy Eg (eV) solution/reference
84-0209 β-Cu2S bulk crystals 37.5 (1 0 2); 45.5 (1 1 0); 48 (1 0 3); 54 (0 0 4); 54.5 (2 0 1) 1.22 organic/[8]
232-0961 ortho. α-Cu2S films 27.5 (1 8 0); 33 (0 4 4); 47 (2 13 1); 51 (5 9 3); 57 (6 0 5) 2.48a aqueous/[9]
02-1294 ortho. α-Cu2S hexagonal nanodisks ≈38; ≈46; ≈48.5; ≈61   organic/[10]
84-1770 Cu2S films 27.5 (1 1 1); 32.3 (2 0 0); 46 (2 2 0); 54.5 (3 1 1)   aqueous/[11]
00-0649 Cu2S hexagonal nanodisks ≈37.5; ≈45.5; ≈48.5; ≈54.5   organic/[12]
26-1116 hex. β-Cu2S 14-facets polyhedra 37.5 (1 0 2); 45.5 (1 1 0); 48 (1 0 3); 54 (1 1 2) 1.35–1.56b organic/[13]
26-1116 hex. β-Cu2S hexagonal nanocrystals 34.5 (1 0 1); 44 (1 0 2); 54 (1 1 0); 57 (1 0 3); 64.5 (0 0 4)   organic/[14]
26-1116 hex. β-Cu2S hexagonal nanodisks 37.5 (1 0 2); 45.5 (1 1 0); 48 (1 0 3); 54 (1 1 2) 1.36–1.53b organic/[15]
26-1116 hex. β-Cu2S hexagonal nanodisks 37.5 (1 0 2); 45.5 (1 1 0); 48 (1 0 3); 54.5 (0 0 4); 56 (2 0 1)   water–organic/[16]
26-1116 hex. β-Cu2S nanorods 26.5 (0 0 2); 30 (1 0 1); 37.5 (1 0 2); 46 (1 1 0); 48.5 (1 0 3); 59 (2 0 0) 2.48a water–organic/[17]
29-0578 tet. Cu1.96S films 27.5 (1 0 2); 32.5 (1 0 3); 39 (1 0 4); 48.5 (2 0 2) 1.4 aqueous/[9]
04-0842 digenite Cu1.8S spherical nanoparticles ≈28; ≈32.5; ≈46.5   organic/[12]
47-1748 digenite Cu1.8S irregular nanoparticles ≈28; ≈32; ≈46.5   aqueous/[18]
47-1748 digenite Cu1.8S irregular nanoparticles ≈28; ≈32; ≈46.5; ≈55   water–organic/[19]
24-0061 digenite Cu1.8S films 28 (1 1 1); 32 (2 0 0); 46 (2 2 0) 1.55 aqueous/[20]
23-0960 cub. digenite Cu1.76S films 28 (6 6 2); 32 (8 6 0); 47 (10 10 0); 55 (15 7 1) 2.11a aqueous/[9]
00-0833 CuS spherical nanoparticles ≈29.5; ≈32.5; ≈48.5   organic/[12]
79-2321 CuS irregular nanoparticles 29.5; 32; 48; 59   aqueous/[18]
01-1281 hex. CuS clusters of nanoparticles 29 (1 0 2); 32 (1 0 3); 48 (1 1 0); 52.5 (1 0 4);   aqueous/[21]
03-0724 hex. CuS nanoflowers 27.6 (1 0 1); 29.5 (1 0 2); 31.6 (1 0 3); 47.6 (1 1 0); 52.5 (1 0 8); 59 (1 1 6)   aqueous/[22]
85-0620 CuS films based on nanorods 44 (1 0 6); 45 (0 0 8); 51 (1 0 8); 54 (1 1 6); 65 (2 1 6); 75 (2 0 8)   aqueous/[23]
06-0464 hex. CuS films 29 (1 0 2); 31.5 (1 0 3); 32.5 (0 0 6); 48 (1 1 0); 52.5 (1 0 8) 1.72a aqueous/[9]
06-0464 hex. CuS films 29 (1 0 2); 31.5 (1 0 3); 32.5 (0 0 6); 48 (1 1 0) 1.55 aqueous/[20]
06-0464 hex. CuS films 32 (1 0 3); 39.5 (1 0 5); 43.5 (1 0 6); 48 (1 1 0); 53 (1 0 8); 59.5 (1 1 6); 74.5 (2 0 8) 2.8 organic/[24]
06-0464 CuS films based on polycrystals 28 (1 0 1); 29 (1 0 2); 32 (1 0 3) 34 (0 0 6); 48 (1 1 0); 59 (1 1 6); 59.2 (1 0 6) 52 (1 0 8) 2a; 2.58b aqueous/[25]
06-0464 hex. CuS nanoflowers 27.6 (1 0 1); 29.5 (1 0 2); 31.6 (1 0 3); 48 (1 1 0); 52.5 (1 0 8); 59 (1 1 6)   ethanol/[26]
06-0464 hex. CuS irregular nanoparticles 28 (1 0 1); 29 (1 0 2); 32 (1 0 3); 48 (1 1 0); 52 (1 0 8); 59 (1 1 6)   water–oil/[27]

aDirect band gap; bindirect band gap.

On the other hand, the control of size, shape, distribution and stoichiometry of CuxS is an essential challenge nowadays, because these parameters are dependent on several factors [12,13,15,18,21]. For example, the reaction temperature modified the shape, size and optical properties of monodisperse Cu2S obtained from a simple one-pot route [15]. In fact, there exists wide research about the synthesis of copper sulfide nanostructures obtaining different Cu/S ratios [9,11,16,20,23-26]. However, the lack of knowledge about the growth evolution and the phase transitions of copper sulfide is the motivation of this work.

In this work, the growth evolution and the phase transition of copper sulfide in the temperature range from 220 to 260 °C in an organic solvent is reported. The full electrical, morphological and optical properties of these crystalline samples synthesized in the organic solvent were compared with the amorphous CuxS obtained from aqueous solution.

Results and Discussion

Structural properties from X-ray diffraction

The structural properties of the copper sulfide samples (CuxS) depend on the synthesis and the reaction temperature (Figure 1). A fully amorphous product is obtained from aqueous solution according to the X-ray diffraction pattern (Figure S1 in Supporting Information File 1). However, the crystallinity of organic products is dependent on the temperature reaction. At 220 °C, CuxS presents three peaks with low intensity at 2θ = 38, 46.5 and 49° corresponding to the chalcocite structure (JCPDS 31-0482) (Figure 1a). Above a temperature of 230 °C, the CuxS product is more crystalline. There are four peaks with broadening and better intensity at 2θ = 37.84, 46.5, 48.82, and 54.94°, which match both to the chalcocite (JCPDS 31-0482) phase and djurleite phase (JCPDS 20-0365). At 240 °C (Figure 1b), well defined peaks of the digenite phase (Cu1.8S, JCPDS 47-1748) appear at 28.26, 30.02, 32.66, 42.42, 46.62, 52.32, and 55.12 corresponding to the rhombohedral structure, which is consistent to the literature [19]. Small peaks of chalcocite can be seen, which are indicative of a mixture of phases. The X-ray pattern of CuxS synthesized at 260 °C presents sharp peaks at 2θ = 27.84, 32.22, 32.66, 46.24, 55.12, and 67° of the digenite phase.


Figure 1: X-ray patterns of copper sulfide synthesized in organic solution at a) 230 and 220 °C, the chalcocite phase is obtained and at b) 240 and 260 °C, the predominant phase is the digenite.

Three shapes of unit cells of Cu2S chalcocite phase can be presented: monoclinic (low chalcocite), hexagonal (high chalcocite), and cubic (cubic chalcocite) [30]. It is well known that the transformation from monoclinic (α,γ-Cu2S) to hexagonal (β-Cu2S) occurs at 103.5 °C and 101.8 °C for bulk and nanostructure chalcocite, respectively [33]. According to Machani et al. [34] the monoclinic phase changes to djurleite in ambient air and the real phase obtained is djurleite instead of chalcocite, even though, the chalcocite phase is usually reported [8,12-15]. In fact, the djurleite phase is obtained in ambient air [18], while chalcocite is obtained under argon atmosphere [14]. So, the products reported here obtained at 220 °C and 230 °C really are the chalcocite phase despite some peaks which match with djurleite. In fact, the CuxS products maintained the crystalline phases after we stored them for one year at room temperature, which is indicative of a good stability of the Cu2S chalcocite and Cu1.8S digenite phases (results not shown here).

The grain size and stress of the crystalline copper sulfide samples from organic synthesis at 230–260 °C were obtained from the full widths at a half maximum (FWHM) of the diffraction peaks and the linear combination of the following equation [35]:

[Graphic 1]

where β is the FWHM measured in radians, θ the Bragg angle of the peaks, λ the XRD wavelength, in our case in nanometers (λ = 0.154 nm), D is the effective crystallite size, and ε is the effective strain. A plot of β cos(θ)/λ versus sin(θ)/λ for all the samples gives the grain size and the strain, as shown in Figure S2 in Supporting Information File 1. The intercept is the inverse of the grain size and the slope is the strain, respectively. The grain size increases as the temperature increases (24.5 to 28.3 nm), the effective strain decreases in the samples shown that the least stress was at 260 °C (−8.26 × 10−5) and the highest was at 230 °C (−2.73 × 10−3).

Morphology from TEM and HRTEM

TEM images revel that amorphous CuxS from aqueous solution is constituted of nanometric particles with undefined shape that are agglomerated into clusters (See Figure S3 in Supporting Information File 1), which is in concordance with CuxS obtained in similar aqueous systems [21].

The morphology of CuxS samples from organic solution depends on the reaction temperature, for example irregular particles below 10 nm can be observed for CuxS obtained at 220 °C (Figure 2a). At 230 °C short chains of stacked nanorods with lengths (l) and width (w) of about 13.97 ± 2.7 × 5.86 ± 1.09 nm (from 260 particles), are seen in Figure 2b. Some hexagonal nanodisks of about 20–40 nm and prisms of about 50 nm are also observed. At 240 °C (Figure 2c) aligned nanorods are seen with similar dimensions (13.55 ± 1.86 × 5.91 ± 0.75 nm from 130 particles) to those seen at 230 °C. The size of the CuxS crystals at the higher temperature is not significantly different. However, the amount of crystals with a prism geometry is increased. These two types of morphology are consistent to the mixture of phases that were shown in the X-ray results. Big crystals with different sizes (25–80 nm) are observed for the samples of CuxS synthesized at 260 °C (Figure 2d) and a fewer nanorods of about 17.35 ± 3.70 × 6.59 ± 1.27 nm (from 30 particles) are also seen in Figure S4 in Supporting Information File 1. The average aspect ratios (l/w) of the CuxS nanorods are about 2.38 (230 °C), 2.29 (240 °C), and 2.63 (260 °C) taken from the data of size distribution (Figure S5 in Supporting Information File 1). The change and evolution of the morphology is consistent to the transition of phase, from chalcocite to digenite.


Figure 2: TEM images of copper sulfide synthesized in organic solution at a) 220, b) 230, c) 240 and d) 260 °C. The morphology of the CuxS change from irregular nanoparticles to nanoprisms with increasing temperature. The encircled area shows an alignment of the nanorrods (b).

In order to verify the full transition of the digenite phase an HRTEM analysis of the crystals was made. The distance between the lines in the HRTEM image (Figure 3) is approximately 0.32 nm. This corresponds to the (0015) plane spacing of the digenite phase, which matches the peak of 46% of intensity in the XRD pattern shown in Figure 1b. The diffraction pattern of electrons obtained by the Fourier transformation (inset of Figure 3) shows an interplanar distance of about 0.197 nm, close to the value 0.19644 nm for the (110) spacing of the digenite phase (the peak for 100% intensity in the XRD pattern).


Figure 3: HRTEM image of copper sulfide obtained from synthesis in an organic solvent. The inset figures display the crystallographic planes (0015) and (110), respectively, of the digenite phase.

From TEM images, it can be observed that the phase transformation occurs from 220 to 260 °C and involves three stages: the nucleation, the shape evolution of the chalcocite crystals and the transition of the chalcocite to the digenite phase. Nanoparticles are formed in the first stage at 220 °C, which are the nuclei to the formation of a mixture of morphologies, i.e., nanodisks (25–40 nm) and irregularly shaped prisms (50–100 nm). The movement of the nanodisks results in the formation of the digenite phase through fusion of the nanodisks.

Cu/S ratio from EDS

The EDS patterns shows two peaks at 0.9 and 8.0 keV attributed to Cu Kα and Cu Lα emission, while a third peak at 2.3 keV is due to the S Kα emission. Table 2 displays the average of Cu/S ratios calculated from the atomic percentage of each element from at least three measurements. The amorphous copper sulfide synthesized in an aqueous solution has a Cu/S ratio of 1.48 ± 0.03, close to the 1:1 ratio of CuS [18]. The organic CuxS samples show the following Cu/S ratios: 1.58 ± 0.02 for the sample at 220 °C, 1.92 ± 0.05, and 1.83 ± 0.08 for crystalline chalcocite/digenite at 230 and 240 °C, respectively, and 1.69 ± 0.05 for the digenite phase (at 260 °C). These values are similar to the chalcocite Cu2S and digenite Cu1.8S phases, respectively.

Table 2: Summary of the morphological, optical, and electrical properties of CuxS samples.

samples/temperature (°C) crystalline phase nanorod dimensions
l × w (nm)
Cu/S ratio maximum absorbance peak (nm) direct Eg (eV) resistance (Ω/sq)
Aa/100 amorphous 1.48 ± 0.03 530 2.20 461.50
Ob/220 chalcocite 1.58 ± 0.02 1.57 8.66 × 106
O/230 chalcocite/ digenite 13.97 ± 2.7 × 5.86 ± 1.09 1.92 ± 0.05 440 1.87 5.72 × 105
O/240 chalcocite/ digenite 13.55 ± 1.8 × 5.91 ± 0.75 1.83 ± 0.08 480 1.76 7.29 × 107
O/260 digenite 17.35 ± 3.7 × 6.59 ± 1.27 1.69 ± 0.05 540 1.60 346.45

aSamples from aqueous solution; bsamples from organic solution.

Optical properties

The optical absorbance spectra of the CuxS are shown in Figure 4. Both, the amorphous sample from aqueous synthesis and the chalcocite CuxS from organic synthesis at 220 °C, present a weak and broad absorption band at approximately 500 nm. However, crystalline CuxS samples show a well-defined absorbance band between 490 to 600 nm. In fact, a red shift of about 40 to 60 nm is presented from the chalcocite (Cu2S) to the digenite phases (Cu1.8S), which is in agreement to the increment of crystal size. This phenomenon is related to the free charges due to the copper deficiency in the samples. For example, the maximum absorbance band has been reported at 450 nm for Cu2S, while it is observed at longer wavelength (950 nm) for CuS [36]. It is clear, that the deficiencies of copper generate a displacement or shift of the optical absorption, which is consistent to the transition of the phases.


Figure 4: Absorbance of copper sulfide nanocrystals synthesized in an aqueous solution and in an organic solvent. A clear shift towards low energies is observed in the CuxS samples synthesized in the range from 230 to 260 °C.

The energy band gaps of the samples were computed by the Tauc plot for direct transition (Figure 5). The indirect plot (inset) did not present a satisfactory straight-line region for all samples. The CuxS sample prepared in aqueous solution shows an Eg about 2.2 eV for the direct and 2.0 eV for the indirect transition, respectively (see inset of Figure 5). This is coherent with the value of 2.3 eV reported for crystalline or amorphous CuS covellite thin films from an aqueous solution [25,37].


Figure 5: Direct band gaps of copper sulfide in a) amorphous phase obtained by aqueous synthesis and b) crystalline phases from organic media. Indirect band gap plots are included as an inset in all plots. The clear slopes in the graphics show the direct band gap energy.

On the other hand, the direct Eg values of the CuxS samples prepared in the organic solvent are in the range of 1.57–1.87 eV. These values are adequate for an optical absorption in the visible region, which makes the samples very promising materials for solar cell applications. In Table 2 we observe a clear decrease of Eg from 1.87 to 1.60 eV from crystalline chalcocite to the digenite phase, which is in agreement to the increasing crystal size observed with TEM. These values are slightly smaller to those reported for bulk copper sulfide (1.7 and 2.0 eV) [38], so, it is consistent to the size of the nanostructures. On the other hand, an effect was found for chalcocite crystals, namely a shift into the UV region was observed and consequently, large Eg values were obtained at high deposition times without modifying the chalcocite phase [13].

Electrical properties

The CuxS films prepared in aqueous solution are amorphous with undefined morphology. They exhibit a low square electrical resistivity (about 103 Ω/sq) as shown in Figure 6. Chalcocite CuxS from organic solution has a resistance of the order of 105–106 Ω/sq, while crystalline CuxS has a resistivity of about 107 Ω/sq at 240 °C and 102 Ω/sq at 260 °C, respectively. In fact, the samples obtained at 230 and 240 °C, which consist of a mixture of chalcocite and digenite phases, are more resistive than the digenite phase (sample at 260 °C). This means that the copper deficiency improves the conductivity of the CuxS, which is consistent to the reports in the literature [20]. Deficient copper structures like analite (Cu1.75S) have been grown onto the surface of CuS thin films, which improved their conductivity [28].


Figure 6: Square resistance of copper sulfide films synthesized in an aqueous solution (left) and in organic solution (right). The samples with low electrical resistance are amorphous CuxS obtained from aqueous solution and crystalline CuxS synthesized at 260 °C.

The time–photo-current response of CuxS is reported for the first time (Figure 7). It is clear that the amorphous CuxS presents a low photosensitivity in contrast to the crystalline CuxS samples obtained from organic solution, which are slightly photosensible, suggesting a photo-generation of carrier charges. The current increases gradually as a function of the time exposed to the light, this is attributed to the recombination of charges due to the superficial states in the CuxS samples.


Figure 7: Photoconductivity of copper sulfide films, synthesized in both aqueous and organic media. Only the organic samples show photoconductivity.

Mechanism of the formation and phase transition

According to the results presented above, a formation mechanism of the growth and the phase transition from chalcocite to digenite is proposed (Figure 8). It is clear that the nucleation of the crystals begins at 220 °C. It is a key to ensure the growth of nanoparticles at initial stages of the reaction. Above this temperature chains of aligned nanorods are formed and other crystals, nanodisks and prisms, grow. The chains of nanorods are predominant at 230 °C while nanodisks and prisms are the main morphology at 240 °C. A full phase transition from chalcocite to digenite is obtained at 260 °C.


Figure 8: Scheme of the phase-transition mechanism from chalcocite to digenite and the formation of the respective nanocystals of the CuxS samples as a function of the temperature. The growth of the crystalline digenite begins with the formation the nanoparticles at 220 °C and it ends at 260 °C.

Wang et al. obtained nanodisks of chalcocite Cu2S at 220 °C [15]. But, in our case, this temperature is the first stage to the phase transformation from the chalcocite to the digenite phase. According to Wang et al., the growth and rearrangement of the nanodisks are dependent on the concentration of precursors, amount of surfactant, the reaction temperature, and the reaction time. We found that this rearrangement of nanodisks is necessary for the transition of the digenite phase and it is induced only by the temperature.

On the other hand, the amorphous structure of CuxS prepared from aqueous solution is consistent to its synthesis at low temperatures [37], during which the CuS crystalline covellite phase can be formed above 200 °C [24,25], and the tailoring of the Cu/S stoichiometric ratio and the phase transformation had been reached at temperatures between 230 to 700 °C [21]. Grozdanov and Najdoski found that the electrical sheet resistance decreases as the copper content decreased [25]. This is consistent with our results.


Copper sulfide with 2 and 1.8 of Cu/S ratio were synthesized successfully from chemical synthesis in an organic solvent at 220–260 °C. Amorphous CuxS was also obtained from aqueous solution at low temperatures with a low electrical resistance, indicative of a high conductivity. The evolution growth, formation of nanostructures, and phase transition were completely described in a scheme based on the TEM images. The full phase transition from chalcocite to digenite is obtained at 260 °C in an organic media. It is clear that the optical and electrical properties are suitable for optoelectronic applications, such as solar cells.


Crystalline copper sulfide nanostructures were obtained by one-pot synthesis in an organic solvent while raising the reaction temperature from 220 to 260 °C. Amorphous copper sulfide was also synthesized by a chemical reaction in aqueous solution at 40 °C. Films, colloid and powder products were obtained from both reactions.


For the organic reaction: copper(I) acetate (C2H3CuO2, Sigma-Aldrich, 97%), tri-n-octylphosphine oxide (OP(C8H17)3, TOPO Sigma-Aldrich, ≥98%), 1-dodecanethiol (C12H25SH, Aldrich, ≥98%), and dichlorobenzene (C6H4Cl2, Sigma-Aldrich 99%) were used as received.

The aqueous reaction: deionized water (10 MΩ·cm), thiourea (H2NCSNH2, Aldrich ≥99%), copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate (CuSO4·5H2O, Baker 99.3%), triethanolamine (TEA, C6H15NO3, Baker 99.8%), and sodium acetate (NaCOOCH3, Baker, 99.5%)

Synthesis of nanocrystalline copper sulfide from organic solvent

It consisted of a one-pot colloidal process previously reported by Wang et al. [15] with slight modifications. In this reaction, C2H3CuO2 was the copper precursor and C12H25SH the sulfur precursor. In brief, 1g of TOPO and 0.0488 g of C2H3CuO2 were mixed with 30 mL of C18H36 in a three-neck flask. Argon was flowed into the system for 30 min to keep the reaction under an inert atmosphere. Then, the solution was heated to 160 °C and 1 mL of C12H25SH was injected quickly under vigorous stirring. The mixture reacted at constant temperature (220, 230, 240 or 260 °C) during 120 min. The colloidal brown products were washed three times with dichlorobenzene by centrifugation (20,000 rpm, 20 min) and were re-dispersed in dichlorobenzene. The organic products were cast on a Corning glass substrate and dried at 60 °C in an electric grill in order to form films.

Synthesis of amorphous copper sulfide from aqueous solution

In this reaction thiourea and copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate (CuSO4·5H2O) were the sulfur and copper precursors, respectively, and the TEA ligand was an intermediary in the reaction. The synthesis proceeded as follows: A three-necked reactor containing 440 mL of deionized water was placed on a hot plate with magnetic stirring at 40 °C for 30 min. Clean Corning glass substrates were immersed inside the reactor in order to obtain the films by in situ deposition. Subsequently 1.3389 g of CuSO4·5H2O, previously dissolved in 20 mL of deionized water (1.3389 g/20 mL), 0.4354 g/14.5 mL of NaCOOCH3 and, 5.18 mL/20 mL of TEA. Finally, 0.2 g/31 mL of H2NCSNH2 was added in three aliquots each for 25 min. The substrates were withdrawn from the reactor and rinsed with deionized water. The precipitated products were washed with deionized water three times, immediately they were centrifuged and dried at room temperature. Both films and powder products, received a thermal treatment at 100 °C in air in a stove during 1 h.


Powders of two syntheses, aqueous and organic, respectively, of CuxS were re-dispersed in isopropanol and toluene. One aliquot from these solutions was placed on carbon-coated copper grids for characterization by TEM, in a JEOL JEM-1010 at 80 kV of acceleration potential. Additionally, thin films of aqueous and organic syntheses of CuxS were characterized by X-ray diffraction (Rigaku, MiniFlex, Cu Kα 1.54 Å and 2θ from 10 to 70°, rate 2°/min each 0.02 s), electrically by the four-points-probe technique, by UV–vis spectroscopy (Thermo Scientific Genesys 10S UV–vis spectrophotometer in the range of 200 to 1100 nm) in order to determine, the structural phase, the electrical resistance and optical absorbance spectra, respectively. The photoresponse measurements were made by applying a potential of 1 V at the sample: 20 s in darkness, 50 s under illumination and another 50 s in darkness. For this, two rectangular metallic contacts (0.5 × 0.2 cm) were painted on the surface of the films with silver paint in a square sample of 0.5 cm2.

Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) was carried out in a JSM-6060LV SEM at 20 keV by using KBr pellets containing granules of CuxS powder to make the punctual analysis.

Supporting Information

Supporting Information File 1: Additional Figures.
Format: PDF Size: 526.6 KB Download


This work was financed by CONACyT-México (CB176450, CB154787) and SENER-CONACyT (CeMIE-Sol project No. 27). The authors are grateful for the technical support received from Domingo Rangel, Beatriz Millán, Alicia del Real, Lourdes Palma (INB-UNAM) and Gabriel Nava (INB-UNAM). Thank to Marcela Ovalle Marroquín for her appreciable helps in HRTEM.


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