The selenization of Cu-Zn-Sn-S nanocrystals is a promising route for the fabrication of low-cost thin film solar cells. However, the reaction pathway of this process is not completely understood. Here, the evolution of phase formation, grain size, and elemental distributions is investigated during the selenization of Cu-Zn-Sn-S nanoparticle precursor thin films by synchrotron-based in situ energy-dispersive X-ray diffraction and fluorescence analysis as well as by ex situ electron microscopy. The precursor films are heated in a closed volume inside a vacuum chamber in the presence of selenium vapor while diffraction and fluorescence signals are recorded. The presented results reveal that during the selenization the cations diffuse to the surface to form large grains on top of the nanoparticle layer and the selenization of the film takes place through two simultaneous reactions: (1) a direct and fast formation of large grained selenides, starting with copper selenide which is subsequently transformed into Cu2ZnSnSe4; and (2) a slower selenization of the remaining nanoparticles. As a consequence of the initial formation of copper selenides at the surface, the subsequent formation of CZTSe starts under Cu-rich conditions despite an overall Cu-poor composition of the film. The implications of this process path for the film quality are discussed. Additionally, the proposed growth model provides an explanation for the previously observed accumulation of carbon from the nanoparticle precursor beneath the large grained layer.
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