Organic bulk heterojunction solar cells

The sequential process involved in the light into electricity conversion can be summarized by the following steps: First, incident light is absorbed within the photoactive layer leading to the created of a bound electron-hole pairs (singlet excitons); the created excitons start to diffuse within the donor phase leading to charge separation; the separated charge carriers are transported to the corresponding electrodes.

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Fig. 1. (a) Schematic device structure and (b) energy diagram for an organic bilayer solar cell

Figure 1 (a) shows the simplest structure of an organic bilayer solar cell appears to be the superposition of donor and acceptor materials on top of each other, providing the interface needed to ensure the charge transfer. The schematic energy diagram of such an organic bilayer solar cell is depicted in Figure 1 (b). The excitons photogenerated in the donor or in the acceptor can diffuse to the interface where they are dissociated. According to the Onsager theory (Onsager, 1938) that can be invoked as a first approximation in organic semiconductors, photoexcited electrons and holes, by virtue of the low dielectric constant intrinsic to conjugated polymers, are coulombically bound. Due to the related exciton binding energy, which with around 0.5 eV is much larger than the thermal energy, the photogenerated excitons are not easily separated. Once excitons have been generated by the absorption photons, they can diffuse over a length of approximately 5-15 nm (Haugeneder et al., 1999). Since the exciton diffusion lengths in conjugated polymers are less than the photon absorption length, the efficiency of a bilayer cell is limited by the number of photons that can be absorbed within the effective exciton diffusion range at the polymer/electron interface. This limits drastically the photocurrent and hence the overall efficiency of the organic bilayer solar cells. To overcome this limitation, the surface area of the donor/acceptor interface needs to be increased. This can be achieved by creating a mixture of donor and acceptor materials with a nanoscale phase separation resulting in a three­dimensional interpenetrating network: the "bulk heterojunction solar cells" (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2. (a) Schematic device structure and (b) energy diagram for an organic bulk heterojunction solar cell

The discovery of 1-(3-methoxycarbonyl)propyl-1-phenyl[6]C61 (PCBM) (Hummelen et al., 1995), a soluble and processable derivative of fullerene C6o, allowed the realization of the first organic bulk heterojunction solar cell by blending it with poly(2-methoxy-5-(2′-ethyl-hexoxy)- 1,4-phenylene-vinylene) (MEH-PPV) (Yu et. Al., 1995). Figure 2(b) demonstrates the schematic energy diagram of an organic bulk heterojunction solar cell. Contrary to Figure (1b), excitons experience dissociation wherever they are generated within the bulk. Indeed, the next interface between donor and acceptor phases is present within the exciton diffusion length everywhere in the device. After having been generated throughout the bulk, the free carriers have to diffuse and/or be driven to the respective electrodes (Dennler & Sariciftci, 2005).

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