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ACS Nano. 2011 Aug 23;5(8):6233-43. doi: 10.1021/nn2010816. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Competition between fullerene aggregation and poly(3-hexylthiophene) crystallization upon annealing of bulk heterojunction solar cells.

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  • 1National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center, 101 Hsin-Ann Road, Hsinchu Science Park, Hsinchu 30076, Taiwan.


Concomitant development of [6,6]-phenyl-C(61)-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) aggregation and poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) crystallization in bulk heterojunction (BHJ) thin-film (ca. 85 nm) solar cells has been revealed using simultaneous grazing-incidence small-/wide-angle X-ray scattering (GISAXS/GIWAXS). With enhanced time and spatial resolutions (5 s/frame; minimum q ≈ 0.004 Å(-1)), synchrotron GISAXS has captured in detail the fast growth in size of PCBM aggregates from 7 to 18 nm within 100 s of annealing at 150 °C. Simultaneously observed is the enhanced crystallization of P3HT into lamellae oriented mainly perpendicular but also parallel to the substrate. An Avrami analysis of the observed structural evolution indicates that the faster PCBM aggregation follows a diffusion-controlled growth process (confined by P3HT segmental motion), whereas the slower development of crystalline P3HT nanograins is characterized by constant nucleation rate (determined by the degree of supercooling and PCBM demixing). These two competing kinetics result in local phase separation with space-filling PCBM and P3HT nanodomains less than 20 nm in size when annealing temperature is kept below 180 °C. Accompanying the morphological development is the synchronized increase in electron and hole mobilities of the BHJ thin-film solar cells, revealing the sensitivity of the carrier transport of the device on the structural features of PCBM and P3HT nanodomains. Optimized structural parameters, including the aggregate size and mean spacing of the PCBM aggregates, are quantitatively correlated to the device performance; a comprehensive network structure of the optimized BHJ thin film is presented.

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