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Acc Chem Res. 2012 May 15;45(5):723-33. doi: 10.1021/ar2002446. Epub 2012 Jan 30.

Molecular design of photovoltaic materials for polymer solar cells: toward suitable electronic energy levels and broad absorption.

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  • 1Beijing National Laboratory for Molecular Sciences, Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China.


Bulk heterojunction (BHJ) polymer solar cells (PSCs) sandwich a blend layer of conjugated polymer donor and fullerene derivative acceptor between a transparent ITO positive electrode and a low work function metal negative electrode. In comparison with traditional inorganic semiconductor solar cells, PSCs offer a simpler device structure, easier fabrication, lower cost, and lighter weight, and these structures can be fabricated into flexible devices. But currently the power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the PSCs is not sufficient for future commercialization. The polymer donors and fullerene derivative acceptors are the key photovoltaic materials that will need to be optimized for high-performance PSCs. In this Account, I discuss the basic requirements and scientific issues in the molecular design of high efficiency photovoltaic molecules. I also summarize recent progress in electronic energy level engineering and absorption spectral broadening of the donor and acceptor photovoltaic materials by my research group and others. For high-efficiency conjugated polymer donors, key requirements are a narrower energy bandgap (E(g)) and broad absorption, relatively lower-lying HOMO (the highest occupied molecular orbital) level, and higher hole mobility. There are three strategies to meet these requirements: D-A copolymerization for narrower E(g) and lower-lying HOMO, substitution with electron-withdrawing groups for lower-lying HOMO, and two-dimensional conjugation for broad absorption and higher hole mobility. Moreover, better main chain planarity and less side chain steric hindrance could strengthen π-π stacking and increase hole mobility. Furthermore, the molecular weight of the polymers also influences their photovoltaic performance. To produce high efficiency photovoltaic polymers, researchers should attempt to increase molecular weight while maintaining solubility. High-efficiency D-A copolymers have been obtained by using benzodithiophene (BDT), dithienosilole (DTS), or indacenodithiophene (IDT) donor unit and benzothiadiazole (BT), thienopyrrole-dione (TPD), or thiazolothiazole (TTz) acceptor units. The BDT unit with two thienyl conjugated side chains is a highly promising unit in constructing high-efficiency copolymer donor materials. The electron-withdrawing groups of ester, ketone, fluorine, or sulfonyl can effectively tune the HOMO energy levels downward. To improve the performance of fullerene derivative acceptors, researchers will need to strengthen absorption in the visible spectrum, upshift the LUMO (the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital) energy level, and increase the electron mobility. [6,6]-Phenyl-C(71)-butyric acid methyl ester (PC(70)BM) is superior to [6,6]-phenyl-C(61)-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) because C(70) absorbs visible light more efficiently. Indene-C(60) bisadduct (ICBA) and Indene-C(70) bisadduct (IC(70)BA) show 0.17 and 0.19 eV higher LUMO energy levels, respectively, than PCBM, due to the electron-rich character of indene and the effect of bisadduct. ICBA and IC(70)BA are excellent acceptors for the P3HT-based PSCs.

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