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Title: Charge Recombination, Transport Dynamics, and Interfacial Effects in Organic Solar Cells

The need for renewable sources of energy is well known. Conversion of sunlight to electricity using solar cells is one of the most important opportunities for creating renewable energy sources. The research carried out under DE-FG02-08ER46535 focused on the science and technology of “Plastic” solar cells comprised of organic (i.e. carbon based) semiconductors. The Bulk Heterojunction concept involves a phase separated blend of two organic semiconductors each with dimensions in the nano-meter length scale --- one a material that functions as a donor for electrons and the other a material that functions as an acceptor for electrons. The nano-scale inter-penetrating network concept for “Plastic” solar cells was created at UC Santa Barbara. A simple measure of the impact of this concept can be obtained from a Google search which gives 244,000 “hits” for the Bulk Heterojunction solar cell. Research funded through this program focused on four major areas: 1. Interfacial effects in organic photovoltaics, 2. Charge transfer and photogeneration of mobile charge carriers in organic photovoltaics, 3. Transport and recombination of the photogenerated charge carriers in organic photovoltaics, 4. Synthesis of novel organic semiconducting polymers and semiconducting small molecules, including conjugated polyelectrolytes. Following the discovery of ultrafast charge transfer atmore » UC Santa Barbara in 1992, the nano-organic (Bulk Heterojunction) concept was formulated. The need for a morphology comprising two interpenetrating bicontinuous networks was clear: one network to carry the photogenerated electrons (negative charge) to the cathode and one network to carry the photo-generated holes (positive charge) to the anode. This remarkable self-assembled network morphology has now been established using Transmission electron Microscopy (TEM) either in the Phase Contrast mode or via TEM-Tomography. The steps involved in delivering power from a solar cell to an external circuit are the following: • Photo-excitation of the donor (or the acceptor). • Charge transfer with holes in the donor domain and electrons in the acceptor domain. • Sweep-out to electrodes prior to recombination by the internal electric field. • Energy delivered to the external circuit. Each of these four steps was studied in detail using a wide variety of organic semiconductors with different molecular structures. This UC Santa Barbara group was the first to clarify the origin and the mechanism involved in the ultrafast charge transfer process. The ultrafast charge transfer (time scale approximately 100 times faster than the first step in the photo-synthesis of green plants) is the fundamental reason for the potential for high power conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity from plastic solar cells. The UCSB group was the first to emphasize, clarify and demonstrate the need for sweep-out to electrodes prior to recombination by the internal electric field. The UCSB group was the first to synthesize small molecule organic semiconductors capable of high power conversion efficiencies. The results of this research were published in high impact peer-reviewed journals. Our published papers (40 in number) provide answers to fundamental questions that have been heavily discussed and debated in the field of Bulk Heterojunction Solar Cells; scientific questions that must be resolved before this technology can be ready for commercialization in large scale for production of renewable energy. Of the forty publications listed, nineteen were co-authored by two or more of the PIs, consistent with the multi-investigator approach described in the original proposal. The specific advantages of this “plastic” solar cell technology are the following: a. Manufacturing by low-cost printing technology using soluble organic semiconductors; this approach can be implemented in large scale by roll-to-roll printing on plastic substrates. b. Low energy cost in manufacturing; all steps carried out at room temperature (approx. a factor of ten less than the use of Silicon which requires high temperature processing). c. Low carbon footprint d. Lightweight, flexible and rugged Because of the resolution of many scientific issues, a significant fraction of which were addressed in the research results of DE-FG02-08ER46535, the power conversion efficiencies are improving at an ever increasing rate. During the funding period of DE-FG02-08ER46535, the power conversion efficiencies of plastic solar cells improved from just a few per cent to values greater than 11% with contributions from our group and from researchers all over the world.« less
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Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
Final Report:DOE-Heeger-46535
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
University of California, Santa Barbara
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22)
Country of Publication:
United States