14th June 2017

Spectro-electrochemical Probing of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Processes in Exciton Recombination in I–III–VI2 Nanocrystals

Ternary CuInS2 nanocrystals (CIS NCs) are attracting attention as nontoxic alternatives to heavy metal–based chalcogenides for many technologically relevant applications. The photophysical processes underlying their emission mechanism are, however, still under debate. Here we address this problem by applying, for the first time, spectro-electrochemical methods to core-only CIS and core/shell CIS/ZnS NCs. The application of an electrochemical potential enables us to reversibly tune the NC Fermi energy and thereby control the occupancy of intragap defects involved in exciton decay. The results indicate that, in analogy to copper-doped II–VI NCs, emission occurs via radiative capture of a conduction-band electron by a hole localized on an intragap state likely associated with a Cu-related defect. We observe the increase in the emission efficiency under reductive electrochemical potential, which corresponds to raising the Fermi level, leading to progressive filling of intragap states with electrons. This indicates that the factor limiting the emission efficiency in these NCs is nonradiative electron trapping, while hole trapping is of lesser importance. This observation also suggests that the centers for radiative recombination are Cu2+ defects (preexisting and/or accumulated as a result of photoconversion of Cu1+ ions) as these species contain a pre-existing hole without the need for capturing a valence-band hole generated by photoexcitation. Temperature-controlled photoluminescence experiments indicate that the intrinsic limit on the emission efficiency is imposed by multiphonon nonradiative recombination of a band-edge electron and a localized hole. This process affects both shelled and unshelled CIS NCs to a similar degree, and it can be suppressed by cooling samples to below 100 K. Finally, using experimentally measured decay rates, we formulate a model that describes the electrochemical modulation of the PL efficiency in terms of the availability of intragap electron traps as well as direct injection of electrons into the NC conduction band, which activates nonradiative Auger recombination, or electrochemical conversion of the Cu2+ states into the Cu1+species that are less emissive due to the need for their “activation” by the capture of photogenerated holes. Read the full paper here.