Is Cu3-xP a Semiconductor, a Metal, or a Semimetal?

Andrea Crovetto, Thomas Unold, Andriy Zakutayev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus Citations


Despite the recent surge in interest in Cu3-xP for catalysis, batteries, and plasmonics, the electronic nature of Cu3-xP remains unclear. Some studies have shown evidence of semiconducting behavior, whereas others have argued that Cu3-xP is a metallic compound. Here, we attempt to resolve this dilemma on the basis of combinatorial thin-film experiments, electronic structure calculations, and semiclassical Boltzmann transport theory. We find strong evidence that stoichiometric, defect-free Cu3P is an intrinsic semimetal, i.e., a material with a small overlap between the valence and the conduction band. On the other hand, experimentally realizable Cu3-xP films are always p-type semimetals natively doped by copper vacancies regardless of x. It is not implausible that Cu3-xP samples with very small characteristic sizes (such as small nanoparticles) are semiconductors due to quantum confinement effects that result in the opening of a band gap. We observe high hole mobilities (276 cm2/(V s)) in Cu3-xP films at low temperatures, pointing to low ionized impurity scattering rates in spite of a high doping density. We report an optical effect equivalent to the Burstein-Moss shift, and we assign an infrared absorption peak to bulk interband transitions rather than to a surface plasmon resonance. From a materials processing perspective, this study demonstrates the suitability of reactive sputter deposition for detailed high-throughput studies of emerging metal phosphides.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1259-1272
Number of pages14
JournalChemistry of Materials
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-85353


  • Cu3-xP
  • electronic structure
  • semiconductors
  • semimetal


Dive into the research topics of 'Is Cu3-xP a Semiconductor, a Metal, or a Semimetal?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this