Open Journal of Metal, 2012, 2, 60-67 Published Online September 2012 (
Electrochemical Characteristics of Natural
Mineral Covellite
Mirjana Rajčić-Vujasinović1, Zoran Stević1, Sanja Bugarinović2
1Technical Faculty in Bor, University of Belgrade, Bor, Serbia
2Mining and Metallurgy Institute, Zeleni Bulevar, Bor, Serbia
Received June 23, 2012; revised July 26, 2012; accepted August 15, 2012
Electrochemical characteristics of covellite (CuS) are of importance from flotation and metallurgical point of view, as
well as due to its potential application in solid state solar cells and in photocatalytic reactions. Also, the compound CuS
appears as an intermediary product or a final product in electrochemical oxidation reactions of chalcocite (Cu2S) which
exhibits supercapacitor characteristics. Natural copper mineral covellite has been investigated in inorganic sulfate acid
electrolytes, as well as in strong alkaline electrolyte. Physical properties of covellite were characterized by X-ray dif-
fraction (XRD) and the active surface was examined by optical and electron microscopy (EM) before and after oxida-
tion in galvanostatic regime. Different electrochemical methods (galvanostatic, potentiostatic, cyclic voltammetry and
electrochemical impedance spectroscopy—EIS) have been used. The capacitance of around 21 Fcm–2 (geometric area),
serial resistance of about 90 cm2 and leakage resistance of about 1200 cm2 have been measured in 1 M H2SO4. The
addition of cupric ions in sulfate electrolyte leads to the significant increasing of the capacitance, but having the in-
crease of self-discharge as a negative side phenomenon. The capacitance of around 6.7 Fcm-2 (geometric area), serial
resistance of about 80 cm2 and leakage resistance of about 380 cm2 have been measured in 6 M KOH.
Keywords: Covellite; Capacitance; Copper Sulfides; Electrochemical Characterization; Solar Cells
1. Introduction
Copper sulphides were largely investigated in the recent
years due to the interesting optical and electrical properties,
resulted from the variations in stoichiometry, composition,
morphology, and due to their potential applications in
various fields such as absorbers for solid state solar cells or
in photocatalytic reactions [1]. Solid-state solar cells are
considered attractive devices for the next generation of
photovoltaic cells. Copper sulfides can be considered in
some ways ideal absorber materials—being non-toxic,
cheap and, importantly, abundant, and with good absorp-
tion characteristics. An ETA (Extremely Thin Absorber)
cell is one of the few configurations with potential to
exploit the favourable qualities of CuS in a low-cost solar
cell. Additionally, CuS can be considered a model elec-
tronically “poor” semiconductor, and construction of a
good solar cell with it would be clear proof of the ETA
principle [2].
It was found that different natural sulfide minerals
such as pyrite (FeS2) [3] and chalcocite (Cu2S) [4], as
well as metal sulfides obtained by chemical precipitation,
like cobalt sulfide [5] or nano SnS [6] and ZnS [7], ex-
hibit capacitance characteristics in aqueous solutions of
some acids and alkaline. Compound CuS appears as an
intermediary product or a final product in electroche-
mical oxidation reactions of chalcocite which exhibits
supercapacitor characteristics. The common character-
istic of sulfides exhibiting high capacitances is that their
metal constituent can appear in two or more valence
states. Also, while modeling anodic oxidation reaction of
covellite, it was established that the equivalent electri-
cal circuit has to contain one relatively high capacitor [8].
Those facts were the reason for examination of the min-
eral covellite capacitive characteristics.
Covellite is a copper mineral that can be found in
some copper mines as the relatively pure massive sam-
ples. Its chemical composition is between CuS and
Cu1.1S. Natural covellite has a hexagonal crystal lattice
with the parameters a0 = 0.3972 ± 0.0001 nm and c0 =
1.6344 ± 0.01 nm, but sometimes it can appear as mono-
clinic [9]. Natural covellite is a semiconductor, but its
electrical resistivity is in order of magnitude 10-6 m,
that is near to metals [10,11]. It was proved by thermoe-
lectric probe that covellite is a p-type semiconductor [12]
and confirmed by photoelectrical testing of the samples
from Bor copper mine [13]. Most results of electro-
chemical investigations of copper minerals can be found
opyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
in older literature, but mainly from the metallurgical
point of view [14-26]. Yin et al. [27,28] investigated
behavior of covellite and other copper sulfides with em-
phasize on their oxidation in alkaline solutions.
2. Experimental
The applied standard electrochemical methods such as
galvanostatic, cyclic voltammetry, potentiostatic method
and impedance spectroscopy (EIS), and other methods of
material characterization (optical and scanning electron
microscopy) were described elsewhere [3,8,13,25,29-33].
2.1. Equipment
The electrochemical characterization was carried out by a
standard three-electrode system consisting of saturated
calomel electrode (SCE) as a reference electrode, plati-
num as a counter electrode and a number of working
electrodes the active part of which is the tested material.
The contact between the copper wire and the electrode
material was achieved by using conducting silver glue,
and then mounted in acrylic mass for cold mounting. The
working electrodes (five of them) were of 18 - 49 mm2
and counter electrode of 200 mm2 of active surface area.
The system for electrochemical measurements con-
sisted of hardware (PC, AD-DA converter NI 6251 from
National Instruments and analog interface developed on
Technical faculty in Bor) and software for excitation and
measurement (LabVIEW platform and application soft-
ware) [33].
The optic microscopy of electrode material was carried
out by using LOMO MIN9 microscope with digital cam-
era JENOPTIK ProgRes C10+ for the immediate records
transfer into the computer. The electronic microscopy was
performed by using JSM 35 microscope. The X-ray analy-
sis was done by Siemens difractometer Kristaloflex 810.
2.2. Materials
The starting material was samples of natural copper min-
eral covellite from Bor copper mine. The first series of
experiments was done in unimolar aqueous solutions of
sulfuric acid with or without the addition of copper sul-
fate. The experiments in the second series were per-
formed in strong alkaline solution (6 M KOH). Analyti-
cal grade reagents (sulfuric acid, copper sulfate and po-
tassium hydroxide made by “Zorka” Šabac, Serbia) were
used without further purification. Solutions were pre-
pared with distilled water and were not de-aerated.
The polished surface of the material was analyzed by
optic and electronic microscopy, before and after the
application of galvanostatic impulse of 0.5 mA for the
duration of 40 s in 1 M H2SO4 electrolyte. Figures 1(a)
and 1(b) show optic microscopy pictures of non-treated
(a) and treated (b) covellite. Uniform surface of the
non-treated sample confirms its high purity concerning
natural mineral; natural minerals usually contain some
impurities like quartz or pyrite. It is obvious from Figure
1(b) that some product appeared on the treated electrode
surface during the anodic process. The structure of this
product may be considered as the main reason of rela-
tively high capacitance found out at covellite and other
copper minerals, especially chalcocite.
The chemical composition of the material was deter-
mined by X-ray diffraction analysis of numerous samples,
one of which is presented by the diagram in Figure 2.
The pattern shows that the main constituent of the sample
is compound CuS.
2.3. Procedures
For each set of experiments working electrodes were
ground, polished, washed out, dried and, finally, sub-
merged into electrolyte fresh made for each series of ex-
periments. Polishing and washing out (without grinding)
was done between two experiments. Grinding was per-
formed by the finest grinding paper, polishing by alumina
(0.05 µm) and washing out by distilled water and alcohol.
All the experiments were performed at room tempera-
ture. Having submerged the working electrode, its poten-
tial versus the reference electrode was observed, and,
after stabilization, the value of the rest potential was
Figure 1. Microscopic picture of non-treated (a) and treated
(b) covellite.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
Figure 2. X-ray diffraction pattern of natural mineral covellite.
noted down. The value was used to determine parameters
of subsequent experiments depending on the method of
Some authors [14] presume that the first step is the
discharge of hydroxide ions and oxygen evolution at
3. Theoretical Part
3.1. Possible Reaction Mechanisms
Oxidation of a sulfide mineral is a multi step process
made up of a series of consecutive reactions. In literature
[12-25] it can be found a series of assumptions about the
mechanism of electrochemical oxidation of copper sul-
fides chalcocite and covellite. Most authors confirm that
the overall reaction of anodic dissolution of covellite in
acid solutions is:
CuS CuS2e
Electronic microscopy confirms the presence of ele-
mental sulfur on the surface of anodically treated covel-
lite, but there is very low probability of the two electron
transfer in one step because the activation energy of such
reactions is very high in compare to one electron transfers.
Also, that reaction is almost completely irreversible.
More probable mechanism consisting of two one-elec-
tron steps is:
CuS CuSe
 (2)
followed by:
Cu Cu2e
2OHH O+O2e (4)
Further dissolution in acid and week alkaline solutions
proceeds by chemical oxidation of CuS with atomic oxy-
gen produced in previous step:
24 4 2(liq
CuSOH SOCuSOSH O  (5)
Elemental sulfur also can be oxidized with atomic oxy-
gen, which is very reactive:
 (7)
Previous investigations performed mainly in acid solu-
tions [8,13,23,25] lead to the assumption that the metal
ions from the mineral crystal lattice are transferred into
the solution leaving a surface region with the higher
content of sulfur. That sulfur can be treated as adsorbed
species giving rise to the pseudocapacitance exhibited by
CuS and Cu2S.
In strong alkaline solutions covellite is thermodynamic-
cally instable compound, as well as elementary sulfur. Be-
cause of that, in a medium of this kind, the reaction (4)
may be followed by:
 
All product species in the reaction (8) are thermody-
namically stable in strong alkaline solutions [10].
3.2. Equivalent Electrical Circuit
In a goal to achieve mathematical analysis of the meas-
ured data, it was necessary to develop mathematical
model adapted to the investigated class of electrochemi-
cal system and it is strongly connected with the physical
parameters of the system. Adopted equivalent circuit in a
general case is given in Figure 3(a). R0 corresponds to
the resistance of electrolyte and electrode material, and
its value is in order of magnitude milliohm (m) or ohm
(). Capacity C0 corresponds to double layer formed on
the electrolyte side. Resistances R1 and R2 (order of
magnitude ohm to dozen ohms) are related to slow proc-
esses of adsorption and diffusion, as well as the capaci-
tances C1 and C2. As a matter of fact, the branch R1C1
exhibits and describes the inconstancy of parameters in
R2C2 branch. R3 is resistance of self-discharging, mean-
ing that it is reciprocal to leakage current. Its value is in
order of hundred ohms till the dozens of kilo ohms.
The equation for impedance for equivalent circuit
given in Figure 3(a) is complex and not enough clear. So,
knowing the nature of the process, i.e. orders of magni-
tude of the circuit parameters, much simpler circuit is
applied for analysis and characterization of systems like
investigated here. The scheme of that system is presented
in Figure 3(b), Rs being total serial resistance of the sys-
tem, C—integral capacitance, RL—parallel resistance of
self discharge (leakage).
4. Results and Discussion
The next electrochemical methods have been used: gal-
vanostatic, cyclic voltammetry, potentiostatic method and
impedance spectroscopy (EIS). In a goal to determine the
main parameters, investigated electrochemical system was
modeled by a simplified equivalent circuit which consisted
of a main capacitance, a serial resistance and leakage re-
sistance [25,34].
4.1. Galvanostatic Examination
Classic galvanostatic method assumes that the system is
excited by the constant current between working and as
the system response. Besides the classical, the modified
method [32,34] with prolonged duration of current im-
pulse is applied in order to allow the overwhelming sys-
tem analysis. The surface of the electrode is also ana-
lyzed before and after the use of galvanostatic impulse.
Figure 4 shows an electronic microscopy picture of
the covellite sample before and after the application of
Figure 3. Equivalent electrical circuit; (a) complete, (b) sim-
galvanostatic impulse of 0.5 mA for the duration of 40 s in
1 M H2SO4 electrolyte. The consequences of the reaction
on the treated samples are obvious so as their non- homo-
geneous surface layer, noticeably porous, hence the in-
crease of the electrode interface.
A series of experiments in the 0.5 M H2SO4 + 1 M
NaCl electrolyte showed the intense self-discharge effect
(electrodes tend to relax quickly), so the project was aban-
All the prepared electrodes were first examined in the
unimolar solution of pure sulfuric acid (1 M H2SO4).
Galvanostatic curve for the covellite electrode (surface
area 0.38 cm2) subjected to excitation of 0.1 mA for the
duration of 80 s in the solution of unimolar sulfuric acid
is given in Figure 5. Serial resistance of about 90 cm2
has been determined from the diagram.
Galvanostatic investigations with the same electrodes
have been performed in a strong alkaline solution, as well.
Galvanostatic curve for the covellite electrode (surface
area 0.42 cm2) subjected to excitation of 1 mA for the
duration of 80 s in the solution of 6 M KOH is given in
Figure 6. Serial resistance of about 80 cm2 has been
determined from the diagram.
4.2. Cyclic Voltammetry
Since the standard cyclic voltammetry method is very
convenient for capacitance measurements, a series of ex-
periments was carried out in various electrolytes.
Figure 7 presents a series of voltammograms obtained
in 1 M H2SO4 by cycling with the sweep rate of 5 mVs–1.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
Figure 4. Electronic microscopy picture of non-treated (a)
and treated (b) covellite.
It can be seen that the voltammetric current shows a
steady decrease with the increasing of cycle numbers.
The existance of a compact solid reaction product re-
maining on the electrode surface may be considered as
the main reason of that decrease. That product causes a
slow diffusion in solid state, which leads to the increase
of serial resistance and controls further reaction. Capaci-
tance calculated from the first loop surface area is around
20.6 Fcm–2 (electrode active surface area 0.42 cm2).
Figure 8 shows voltammetric curves of covellite elec-
trode in 6 M KOH solution obtained using a sweep rate of
5 mVs–1. Capacitance calculated from the third loop is
around 6.7 Fcm–2 (electrode active surface area 0.42 cm2).
Figure 5. Galvanostatic curve of covellite in 1 M H2SO4
aqueous solution; excitation 0.1 mA, 80 s; active surface
area 0.38 cm2.
Figure 6. Galvanostatic curve of covellite in 6 M KOH
aqueous solution; excitation 1 mA, 80 s; active surface area
0.42 cm2.
Figure 7. Cyclic voltammograms of covellite in 1 M H2SO4
at v = 5 mVs1.
Figure 8. Consecutive cyclic voltammograms of covellite in
6 M KOH at v = 5 mV s1.
4.3. Potentiostatic Research
The advantage of potentiostatic method—relatively short
duration of the experiment—was made use of for the
detailed investigation of the electrode material behavior in
various electrolytes for the purpose of optimum electrolyte
distinction concerning the obtention of maximum capaci-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
tance and minimum leakage current.
Potentiostatic curves of covellite electrode in the solu-
tion of 1 M H2SO4 for excitation period of 100 s by the
voltage of 20 and 100 mV are presented in Figure 9. It
was proved that the self-discharge resistance practically
does not depend on overvoltage (5000 at η = 100 mV
and 5400 at η = 20 mV), while leakage current is 4 A
at 20 mV and 18.5 A at 100 mV.
Potentiostatic curves obtained in electrolyte containing
1 M H2SO4 + 0.1 M CuSO4 at the electrodes made of the
same covellite sample, but with different suface area are
presented in Figure 10. The curves confirm the supposition
that the serial resistances are inversely dependent to the
electrode surface area.
4.4. Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
Since EIS, if applied on the systems containing high ca-
pacitances, demands long duration of experiments [33]
just few characteristic electrochemical systems were ex-
amined by this method.
Figure 11 shows the impedance diagram of covellite
electrode in the solution of 1 M H2SO4. The excitation
voltages were VDC = 20 mV, VACmax = 5 mV. From the
diagram it was obtained a capacitance of 22 Fcm–2, serial
resistance of 93 cm2 and leakage resistance of 1160
Figure 12 shows the impedance diagram of covellite
electrode in the solution of 6 M KOH. The alternate ex-
citation voltage was VACmax = 7 mV, without the DC off-
set (VDC = 0 mV). From the EIS diagram it was obtained
a capacitance of 9.3 Fcm–2, which is in agreement with
the value obtained from the cyclic voltammetry meas-
urement. Also, from the same diagram it was obtained a
serial resistance of 82 cm2 and leakage resistance of
380 cm2.
The addition of copper ions in the electrolyte results in
the significant increasing of capacitance of investigated
mineral. The same effect was noticed at the natural
Figure 9 . Potentiostatic curves of covellite electrode in the
solution of 1 M H2SO4.
Figure 10. Family of potentiostatic curves for various elec-
trode surface area (S1 = 33 mm2; S2 = 43mm2; S3 = 49
Figure 11. Impedance diagram for covellite electrode in 1 M
Figure 12. Impedance diagram for covellite electrode in 6 M
copper sulfide mineral chalcocite—it was determined
that its capacitance increases with the concentration of
CuSO4, but having the increase of self-discharge as a
side phenomenon, so the optimum concentration was
estimated to be 0.1 M CuSO4 [4].
5. Conclusions
The investigations using different electrochemical me-
thods showed that natural copper mineral covellite exibits
relatively high capacitivity in order of magnitude of 20
Fcm–2 during the first anodic polarisation in acidic so-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. OJMetal
lutions. In the next polarisation phases, the product formed
at the electrode surface causes a slow diffusion in solid
state that leads to the increase of serial resistance and
controls further reaction. The existance of a compact
solid reaction product remaining on the electrode surface
was proved by electron microscopy.
In alkaline solution covellite exhibits a capacitance of
the same order of magnitude, although for about three
times lower; at the same time leakage, i.e. self-discharge
is bigger. The investigations on covellite in acidic and
alkaline solutions had a goal to enable optimization of
the electrochemical systems in the sense to obtain per-
formances as high as possible (usually the lowest serial
and biggest parallel resistance at the same time).
6. Acknowledgment
The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support
from the Ministry of Education and Science, Government
of the Republic of Serbia through the Project No. 172
060: “New approach to designing materials for energy
conversion and storage”.
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