Materials Sciences and Applicatio ns, 2011, 2, 564-571
doi:10.4236/msa.2011.26075 Published Online June 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
TiO2/CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor
Method for Photocatalytic Application
Leinig Perazolli1*, Luciana Nuñez1, Milady Renata Apolinário da Silva2*, Guilherme Francisco Pegler1,
Ademir Geraldo Cavalarri Costalonga1, Rossano Gimenes2, Márcia Matiko Kondo2,
Maria Aparecida Zaghete Bertochi1
1Microwave Sintering and Photocatalysis Laboratory, Instituto de Química de Araraquara, Univ Estadual de São Paulo, Araraquara,
Brazil; 2UNIFEI-Federal University of Itajubá, Itajubá, Brazil.
Received February 5th, 2011; revised March 20th, 2011; accepted April 12th, 2011.
In the present work, the hybrid catalyst films of TiO2/CuO containing up to 10% in mol of copper were deposited onto
glass surface. Precursor solutions were obtained by citrate precursor method. Films were porous and the average par-
ticle size was 20 nm determined by FEG-SEM analysis. The photocatalytic activities of these films were studied using
Rhodamine B as a target compound in a fixed bed reactor developed in our laboratory and UV lamp. It was observed
that the addition of copper to TiO2 increased significantly its photocatalytic activity during the oxidation of Rhodamine
B. The degradation exceeded 90% within 48 hours of irradiation compared to 38% when pure TiO2 was used. More-
over, there was a reduction in the particles band gap energy when compared to that of pure TiO2. These results indicate
that the TiO2/CuO films are promising catalysts for the development of fixed bed reactors to be used to treat effluents
containing azo dyes.
Keywords: TiO2/CuO, Citrate Precursor Method, Thin Film, Rhodamine B, Photocatalytic Oxidation
1. Introduction
The contamination of potable water supplies is one of
the major problems that has drawn global attention. As
a consequence of the growing global industrialization
the water quality of rivers and reservoirs is compro-
mised, mainly as a result of the complex nature of the
industrial pollutants that are being released to the envi-
ronment, in addition to the deficiency of domestic sew-
age treatment [1].
Because of the great amount of organic contaminated
effluent generated and disposed without treatment, the
textile industry can have a negative impact to the envi-
ronment [2]. The problem continues even with the inap-
propriate disposal of dyes and pigments considered non
toxic. These compounds when discharged in superficial
water tend to inhibit the passage of solar light, lead ing to
the reduction of the local biodiversity. Approximately
60% of the dyes used worldwide belong to the family of
azo dyes (azo group, –N=N–), which in combination
with other chromophoric groups promote their colors [3].
Nonetheless, the main problem is the presence of the
groups of toxic chemical substances in the composition
of these dyes, which are mostly carcinogenic and muta-
genic [4,5]. The majority of azo dyes are toxic and non
biodegradable, which inhibit or make it difficult to use
biological treatment processes [6-8]. For this reason,
there has been a constant search for more efficient, inno-
vative, and less costly technologies for the treatment of
industrial effluents.
Several researchers have investigated the mineraliza-
tion of organics using Advanced Oxidative Processes
(AOPs), in which the majority of these contaminants can
be degraded into CO2, H2O and inorganic anions. These
degradations are possible due to the reactions that in-
clude transitory oxidative species, mainly hydroxyl radi-
cals [9]. These radicals present a oxidation potential of
2.8 V, that is only lower than that of fluorine which is
3.03 V [10].
Among AOPs, TiO2 heterogenous photocatalysis has
been successfully employed to destroy numerous classes
of organic compounds [11], and also as a biocide agent
[12-14]. This process was used initially by Pruden and
Ollis [15,16] to degrade chloroform and trichloro ethylen e,
which were totally mineralized by ultraviolet rad iation in
TiO /CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor Method for Photocatalytic Application565
the presence of TiO2.
The semiconductors, such as TiO2, in their fundamen-
tal state do not present a continuous level of energy, and
therefore they do not present electrical conductivity.
However, when irradiated with photons with the same or
higher energy of the band gap (3.2 eV), an electronic
excitation occurs and the electron can be promoted from
the valence band to the conduction band, thereby gener-
ating the electron/hole pair (e/h+) [17]. The photogener-
ated e/h+ pair can either recombine to release heat, or
make their separate ways to the surface of TiO2, where
they can react with the adsorbed species on the catalyst,
inducing the degradation of these substances.
The anatase form of TiO2 is widely used, mainly due
to its properties that include higher photosensibility,
non-toxic nature, band gap value considered ideal for use
with ultraviolet radiation in the germicidal range of 254
nm to solar light, elevated chemical stability, relatively
lower cost, and it can also be optimized using dopants
[18,19]. The TiO2 can be employed in suspension or with
some kind of support, normally prepared by the sol-gel
process [20,21]. However, the Pechini method [22] can
also be used. This method uses polymeric precursors of
citrate as well as ethylene glycol, which can facilitate the
homogeneous distribution of cations in the crystalline
structure and the acquisition of the thin films.
In despite of the wide use of TiO2, several modifica-
tions have been proposed in the surface and/or structure
trying to increase the photocatalytic efficiency of this
semiconductor. Its combination with other semiconduc-
tors such as CdS, WO3, SnO2, including its doping with
different metals have been largely studied [23-28].
Moreover, there have also been reports related to the
combination of CuO with TiO2 [29-31] and the main
reason for such combination was the possibility to obtain
a potential increase in the photocatalytic efficiency, es-
pecially when visible light is used [32-35].
In order to evaluate the pho tocatalytic activ ity of TiO2/
CuO binary system films, obtained by citrate precursor
method, the present work studied the Rhodamine B deg-
radation as the central parameter. Rhodamine B, which
belongs to the dyes family known as fluorides, is an or-
ganic molecule considered to be very stable that does not
suffer degradation with visible light, and therefore can be
used in pulsed dye lasers.
2. Experimental
2.1. Chemicals
The reagents used in this study were 97% titanium iso-
propoxide; citric acid P.A., titanium citrate P.A. and
copper nitrate P.A. purchased from Aldrich. Extran,
polyethylene glycol (PEG 20000) P.A. from Merck.
Rhodamine B and ethylene glycol P.A. were purchase
from Synth.
2.2. Catalyst and Film Preparation
Titanium isopropoxide, citric acid and ethylene glycol
were used in the molar rations of 1:4:16. Ethylene glycol
was heated to 60˚C under magnetic stirred and titanium
isopropoxide was added the agitation until the solution
become clear. Then, the citric acid was added and the
temperature was raised to 90˚C under magnetic stirred
for 120 minutes. Copper nitrate was dissolved in deion-
ized water and added drop wise into the aqueous solution
of titanium citrate. TiO2/CuO catalyst with molar rations
of 90/10 and 95/05 were obtained by the citrate precursor
method. The precursor solution was magnetically stirred
and heated at 110˚C. The pH was around 5 - 6 and in th is
pH the precipitation of titanium and copper salts was
avoid. Ethylene glycol was added to start the polysterifi-
cation reaction and the solution was stirred and heated
for two hours. After cooling the solution 1 mL of Ex-
tran and polyethylene glycol (PEG 20000) were added
in a proportion of 80% w/w in relation to the expected
mass of oxide. These solutions was deposited onto boro-
silicate glass surface using a spin coating technique
(NS-400B-6NPP/LITE/10K model, Laurell Technologies)
and it was thermally treated at 600˚C during 90 min, us-
ing a heating ration of 1˚C·min –1. In order to compare the
results and evaluated the influence of Cu, solutions of
TiO2 without Cu was prepared and deposited in the same
way of TiO2/CuO.
Crystalline phases of films were analyzed by X-Ray
diffraction (Rigaku 2000 X-ray Diffractometer, 2θ = 20
to 80 degrees, step scan at 0.2 s–1). Thickness and mor-
phology of films were observed by scanning electron
microscopy of field emission FEG-SEM (ZEISS™
FEG-UP Supra 35) and ultraviolet-visible region absorp-
tion on UV-vis spectrometer (Varian 5G).
2.3. Photocatalytic Reactor
The photocatalytic reactor was developed in our labora-
tory according to illustration of Figure 1. The system, i.e.
beaker, catalyst supported film, silicone tubes, and pump
were assembled into a closed box in order to avoid the
entrance of external light during the degradation experi-
ment. The beaker containing 50 mL solution of 0.01 mM
Rhodamine B was placed inside the box. The solution
was forced to flow from the top to the bottom of the ox-
ide film by the pump and recycled at 20 mL·min–1 flow
rate. The system was irradiated by germicidal ultraviolet
light of 9 W, with maximum wavelength of 254 nm and a
film exposition area of 12 cm2. Samples of 2 mL solution
were withdrawn taking into account the irradiation ex-
posure time. The absorbance spectrum, in the range of
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
TiO2/CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor Method for Photocatalytic Application
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Figure 1. Reactor illustration for the study of Rhodamine B
decomposition using TiO2-CuO where a glass plate was
used as a support. The recycle flow was 20 mL·min –1.
300 to 700 nm, was obtained using a spectrophotometer
UV-vis. Control experiments were also carried out irra-
diating the Rhodamine B solution using glass plate with
films of pure TiO2 as well as without the catalyst, placed
under similar conditions to that of the TiO2 film doped
with Cu.
3. Results and Discussion
3.1. Films Characterization
3.1.1. X-Ray
The X-ray diffractograms of the pure TiO2 and the films
with 5 and 10 mol% of CuO are presented in Figure 2.
The diffractograms allow only the identification of the
anatase phase of TiO2 by the presence of the peak (101)
in 2θ = 25.4˚, which was observed for all the three com-
positions under study. The presence of CuO seems to
favor the crystallization of anatase phase, since the
FWHM of (101) peak narrows, as observed in Figure 2,
for both TiO2/CuO films.
3.1.2. Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope
Based on the analysis of the micrographic images of the
pure TiO2 and the films doped with 5% and 10% mol of
CuO (Figure 3), it was possible to verify the morphology
and its th ickness, as well as th e average si ze of their par-
ticles. The morphology of the films was homogeneous
and appears almost spherical particles, with presence of
porous forming a high porosity surface, which can en-
hance the catalytic activity of the films. Analyzing the
results showed on the Table 1 it is clear that the pure
TiO2 film is thicker than TiO2/CuO films. This charac-
teristic is due to the higher viscosity of precu rso r solution
of the Ti than that of the Ti-CuO, since for the last ones,
the solutions were diluted in order to guarantee the coo-
per ions stability.
Zhang [36] suggested that the op timum particle size is
within the range of 11 - 21 nm to b e a good photocatalyst.
Wh en the particle size is below the range of 5 - 10 nm, the
surface recombination of electron-hole pairs was found
to be significant, thus, leading to low pho tocatalytic effi-
ciency. The present work showed particle size of 15 nm
to the pure TiO2 and 20 nm to the TiO2/CuO. Those val-
ues are similar to the particle size of the P-25 Degussa,
20 nm, as calculated by Tseng [29]. These results suggest
that it is possible to synthesize powders and films from
the citrate precursor method, obtaining average sizes of
ideal particles for the application in photocatalysis.
3.2. Rhodamine B Degradation
The UV-vis absorption spectra of the degradation of the
Rhodamine B solutions using pure TiO2 films are pre-
sented in Figure 4. It was observed that the Rhodamine
B presented a maximum absorp tion peak within the region
of 550 nm. This band was used as an indication of Rho-
damine B degradation comparing the decrease of its ab-
sorption during irradiation with the initial absorption in
each system. The reduction occurred due to the catalytic
activity of the pure TiO2 film.
Figure 5 illustrates the absorption decrease, at 550 nm
of the Rhodamine B solutions, during exposition time
Figure 2. X-ray diffractograms of TiO2-films doped with
u. C
TiO /CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor Method for Photocatalytic Application 567
Figure 3. Micrographs of FEG-SEM of TiO2-films obtained by citrate precursor method: (a) Pure TiO2 films; (b) TiO2-CuO
5 mol%; (c) TiO2-CuO 10 mol%.
Table 1. Thickness and particle size of TiO2 films obtained
by citrate precursor method.
Material Thickness
(nm) Average Particle Size
TiO2 269 ± 7 15 ± 2
TiO2 CuO 5% 180 ± 7 20 ± 2
TiO2 CuO 10% 183 ± 7 20 ± 2
using different photocatalytic systems. It can be observed
that after 48 hours, the decrease in the absorbance of the
irradiated solutions using pure TiO2 films reached about
38%. This result confirms the film activity, considering
that the direct photolysis of Rhodamine B reached only
17% within the same irradiation time (data not shown).
When TiO2/CuO films were employed as catalysts, it was
observed a decrease of nearly 50% of Rhodamine B
concentration after 12 and 10 hours of irradiation, using
5 and 10% of copper on TiO2 films, respectively. In ad-
dition, after 48 hours of irradiation, there was a decrease
in absorption of 90% and 94% in 550 nm for TiO2 films
containing 5 and 10% of copper, respectively. However,
the increase of CuO from 5 to 10% in the TiO2 film did
not lead to any significant increase in the film photoac-
tivity to the degradation of Rhodamine B.
Nonetheless, analyzing the obtained results in the ab-
sorption spectrum and takin into account the low flow g
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
TiO /CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor Method for Photocatalytic Application
568 2
Wave length (nm)
Figure 4. Absorption spectrum obtained for Rhodamine B solutions considering the exposition
time under ultraviolet light within the interval of 300 to 700 nm using pure TiO2-films.
Figure 5. Comparison between the decrease in absorption
values of Rhodamine B in
= 550 nm as a function of time
under ultraviolet light for pure TiO2-films, TiO2 + 5% and
+ 10% CuO.
rate of the solution over the film surface, combined with
the small area of exposition used in the experimental
studies, it can be observed that TiO2 films doped with 5
and 10% of copper presented a relatively good photo-
catalytic performance.
The increase observed in the photoactivity is probably
due to the coupled structures, in which the illumination
of one of the semiconductors produces a response in the
other, or at the interface between the two, as observed for
the CdS/TiO2 coupled structure particles [31,37]. This
mechanism can probably be used to explain the photo-
catalytic increase of the TiO2/CuO system. Given the
difference between band gap energy of the TiO2 (3.2 eV)
and of the CuO (2.8 eV) [38], it can be suggested a re-
duction in the band gap energy of the coupled structure
TiO2/CuO, which could lead to an increase in the quan-
tity of the electron/hole formation and recombination.
3.3. Band Gap Energy Calculation
The band gap energy of the obtain ed powders was calcu-
lated by the remission function of Kubelka-Munk [39].
After analyzing Figure 6, that present the diffuse reflec-
tive absorption spectra acquired in the remission function
of Kubelka-Munk mode, and extrapolating its results
with the Tauc [40] graphic, the following results were
attained for the powders; 3.18 eV and 2.80 eV for
TiO2/CuO 5 mol% and TiO2/CuO 10 mol%, respectively,
and from literature 3.28 eV for pure TiO2 [38]. These
results indicate the reduction of the band gap energy with
the addition of CuO to TiO2.
The formation of this structure can be a result of the
low sintering temperature that was used during thermal
treatment of the films (600˚C). The Cu loading presented
here suggest a different coupling of the Cu in the TiO2
matrix for this particular synthesis compared with the
one present in the previous publications where the
maximizing efficiency were 2% or lower of Cu loading
[29,30]. The integration of Cu into the TiO2 matrix is
critical for this photocatalytic behavior. Diffusion of Cu
cations on the surface of TiO2 particles can be suggest
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
TiO /CuO Films Obtained by Citrate Precursor Method for Photocatalytic Application569
Figure 6. Remission function of Kubelka-Munk [39] of the
TiO2/CuO powders obtained by citr ate precursor method.
due to the likely slight narrowing on (011) reflection of
anatase phase observed when Cu content increases (Fig-
ure 2). The solid solution formed can stress the crystal-
lites on the particle surface, and resulting in the changes
of (001) peak. In addition, since there is a difference of
two electrons between Ti and Cu on the valence band,
there is a possibility of the formation of two electronic
holes with a typical behavior of a type P semiconductor
(Equation (1)). It can lead to increase the pho toactiv ity of
the coupled structure CuO/TiO2.
TiO Ti
CuO Cu
3.4. Kinetics Studies of Rhodamine B
In the study of the reaction kinetics for the discoloration
of Rhodamine B, the Langmuir-Hinshelwood (L-H) ki-
netics model [41] was adopted:
 C
where C is the Rhodamine B concentration at time t, k is
the constant rate of reaction (ppm·min–1), and K the ab-
sorption coefficient. Integrating the Equation (2) it re-
sults in Equation (3):
ln C
KkC k
Considering that the concentrations obtained were
small, the second term of the Equation (3) can be with-
drawn, h ence we have E q ua tion (4):
ln CkKtk t
 (4)
k i s the constant rate of the apparent reaction (m in–1).
The values obtained were: 0.22; 1.07; and 1.45
min–1 for the experiments in the following sequence:
control; pure TiO2; TiO2/CuO 5 mol%; and TiO2/CuO 10
mol%. The increase in the values was attributed to
an increase in the photochemical activity of the films,
indicating that CuO is enhancing th e photoactivity of the
TiO2 according to the L-H model [41].
Also, the higher degradation activity of TiO2/CuO
films than pure TiO2 can be attributed to the morpho-
logical structure of films, since it is clear analyzing the
FEG micrographs (Figure 3) that TiO2-CuO films shows
biggest and irregular particles when compared with par-
ticles on the pure TiO2 films, that present more regular,
compacted and higher thickness than TiO2/CuO films
(Table 1). Then, the Rodhamine solution probably re-
mains in contact with TiO2/CuO films for extend time
when compared with dense TiO2 films. This fact based
on structure of films and supported by the band gap en-
ergy differences can be explain the higher photocatalytic
activity of TiO2/CuO films.
One of the advantages in the development of photo-
active films is the possibility to manufacture fixed bed
photochemical reactors eliminating the inconvenience of
post filtration procedure that is needed when the photo-
catalyst is used in the powder form.
4. Conclusions
In this study, TiO2 films containing about 10% of CuO
were obtained using Pechini method. The photocatalytic
activity of these films was studied during the photode-
gradation of Rhodamine B solutions. It was observed that
the photocatalytic activity of TiO2 films increased with
the addition of CuO, resulting in Rhodamine B removal
up to 90% after 48 hours of irradiation. This increase in
photoactivity can be attributed to the activity of CuO,
reducing the band gap en ergy value of the hybrid system
TiO2/CuO on the surface and the morphology of this f ilm
that allows a better contact of the Rhodamine solutions
with the catalyst. Furthermore, it can also due to the gen-
eration of electronic holes, with formation of solid CuO
solution on the surface of TiO2 particles. The increase in
the photoactivity of TiO2 film when doped with CuO is
promising and thus allows further studies on the devel-
opment of photoactive films for the production of fixed
bed reactors.
5. Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank FAPESP, FAPEMIG,
CAPES and CNPq for the financial support.
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