Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stanford study could lead to paradigm shift in organic solar cell research

20.11.2013
Organic solar cells have long been touted as lightweight, low-cost alternatives to rigid solar panels made of silicon.

Dramatic improvements in the efficiency of organic photovoltaics have been made in recent years, yet the fundamental question of how these devices convert sunlight into electricity is still hotly debated.


Stanford scientists may have resolved a debate over how organic solar cells turn sunlight into electricity. The question: What causes electron-hole pairs (excitons) to split apart? The likely answer: a gradient at the solar cell interface between disordered polymers and ordered buckyballs splits the exciton, allowing the electron (purple) to escape and produce an electric current.

Credit: Koen Vandewal, Stanford University

Now a Stanford University research team is weighing in on the controversy. Their findings, published in the Nov. 17 issue of the journal Nature Materials, indicate that the predominant working theory is incorrect, and could steer future efforts to design materials that boost the performance of organic cells.

"We know that organic photovoltaics are very good," said study coauthor Michael McGehee, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford. "The question is, why are they so good? The answer is controversial."

A typical organic solar cell consists of two semiconducting layers made of plastic polymers and other flexible materials. The cell generates electricity by absorbing particles of light, or photons.

When the cell absorbs light, a photon knocks out an electron in a polymer atom, leaving behind an empty space, which scientists refer to as a hole. The electron and the hole immediately form a bonded pair called an exciton. The exciton splits, allowing the electron to move independently to a hole created by another absorbed photon. This continuous movement of electrons from hole to hole produces an electric current.

In the study, the Stanford team addressed a long-standing debate over what causes the exciton to split.

"To generate a current, you have to separate the electron and the hole," said senior author Alberto Salleo, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford. "That requires two different semiconducting materials. If the electron is attracted to material B more than material A, it drops into material B. In theory, the electron should remain bound to the hole even after it drops.

"The fundamental question that's been around a long time is, how does this bound state split?"

Some like it hot

One explanation widely accepted by scientists is known as the "hot exciton effect." The idea is that the electron carries extra energy when it drops from material A to material B. That added energy gives the excited ("hot") electron enough velocity to escape from the hole.

But that hypothesis did not stand up to experimental tests, according to the Stanford team.

"In our study, we found that the hot exciton effect does not exist," Salleo said. "We measured optical emissions from the semiconducting materials and found that extra energy is not required to split an exciton."

So what actually causes electron-hole pairs to separate?

"We haven't really answered that question yet," Salleo said. "We have a few hints. We think that the disordered arrangement of the plastic polymers in the semiconductor might help the electron get away."

In a recent study, Salleo discovered that disorder at the molecular level actually improves the performance of semiconducting polymers in solar cells. By focusing on the inherent disorder of plastic polymers, researchers could design new materials that draw electrons away from the solar cell interface where the two semiconducting layers meet, he said.

"In organic solar cells, the interface is always more disordered than the area further away," Salleo explained. "That creates a natural gradient that sucks the electron from the disordered regions into the ordered regions. "

Improving energy efficiency

The solar cells used in the experiment have an energy-conversion efficiency of about 9 percent. The Stanford team hopes to improve that performance by designing semiconductors that take advantage of the interplay between order and disorder.

"To make a better organic solar cell, people have been looking for materials that would give you a stronger hot exciton effect," Salleo said. "They should instead try to figure out how the electron gets away without it being hot. This idea is pretty controversial. It's a fundamental shift in the way people think about photocurrent generation."

Other authors of the paper are Koen Vandewal (lead author), Erik Hoke, William Mateker, Jason Bloking and George Burkhard of Stanford; Steve Albrecht, Marcel Schubert and Dieter Neher of the University of Potsdam; Johannes Widmer and Moritz Riede of the Institute for Applied Photophysics (IAPP); Jessica Douglas and Jean Frechet of the University of California-Berkeley; Aram Amassian of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST); and Alan Sellinger of the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Oxford. Author Kenneth Graham has a joint postdoctoral fellowship with Stanford and KAUST.

Support for the study was provided by the Stanford Center for Advanced Molecular Photovoltaics and the U.S. Department of Energy.

This article was written by Mark Shwartz, Precourt Institute for Energy, Stanford University.

Mark Shwartz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Amputees can learn to control a robotic arm with their minds
28.11.2017 | University of Chicago Medical Center

nachricht The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A whole-body approach to understanding chemosensory cells

13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope

13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cellular Self-Digestion Process Triggers Autoimmune Disease

13.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>