First-Principles Studies of the Electronic and Optical Properties of Zinc Titanium Nitride: The Role of Cation Disorder

Sijia Ke, John Mangum, Andriy Zakutayev, Ann Greenaway, Jeffrey Neaton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cation disorder is an established feature of heterovalent ternary nitrides, a promising class of semiconductor materials. A recently synthesized wurtzite-family ternary nitride, ZnTiN2, shows potential for durable photoelectrochemical applications with a measured optical absorption onset of 2 eV, which is 1.4 eV lower than previously predicted, a large difference attributed to cation disorder. Here, we use first-principles calculations based on density functional theory to establish the role of cation disorder in the electronic and optical properties of ZnTiN2. We compute antisite defect arrangement formation energies for one hundred 128-atom supercells and analyze their trends and their effect on electronic structures, rationalizing experimental results. We demonstrate that charge imbalance created by antisite defects in Ti and N local environments, respectively, broadens the conduction and valence bands near the band edges, reducing the band gap relative to the cation-ordered limit, a general mechanism relevant to other multivalent ternary nitrides. Charge-imbalanced antisite defect arrangements that lead to N-centered tetrahedral motifs fully coordinated by Zn are the most energetically costly and introduce localized in-gap states; cation arrangements that better preserve local charge balance have smaller formation energies and have less impact on the electronic structure. Our work provides insights into the nature of cation disorder in the newly synthesized semiconductor ZnTiN2, with implications for its performance in energy applications, and provides a baseline for the future study of controlling cation order in ZnTiN2 and other ternary nitrides.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3164-3176
Number of pages13
JournalChemistry of Materials
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-87834


  • cations
  • diseases and disorders
  • electrical conductivity
  • energy
  • heat transfer


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