Why are efficient and affordable solar cells so highly coveted? Volume. The amount of solar energy lighting up Earth's land mass every year is nearly 3,000 times the total amount of annual human energy use. But to compete with energy from fossil fuels, photovoltaic devices must convert sunlight to electricity with a certain measure of efficiency. For polymer-based organic photovoltaic cells, which are far less expensive to manufacture than silicon-based solar cells, scientists have long believed that the key to high efficiencies rests in the purity of the polymer/organic cell's two domains – acceptor and donor. Now, however, an alternate and possibly easier route forward has been shown.
Working at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source (ALS), a premier source of X-ray and ultraviolet light beams for research, an international team of scientists found that for highly efficient polymer/organic photovoltaic cells, size matters.
"We've shown that impure domains if made sufficiently small can also lead to improved performances in polymer-based organic photovoltaic cells," says Harald Ade, a physicist at North Carolina State University, who led this research. "There seems to be a happy medium, a sweet-spot of sorts, between purity and domain size that should be much easier to achieve than ultra-high purity."
Ade, a longtime user of the ALS, is the corresponding author of a paper describing this work in Advanced Energy Materials titled "Absolute Measurement of Domain Composition and Nanoscale Size Distribution Explains Performance in PTB7:PC71 BM Solar Cells." Co-authors are Brian Collins, Zhe Li, John Tumbleston, Eliot Gann and Christopher McNeill.
Solar cell conversion efficiency in polymer/organic photovoltaic cells hinges on excitons – electron/hole pairs energized by sunlight – getting to the interfaces of the donor and acceptor domains quickly so as to minimize energy lost as heat. Conventional wisdom held that the greater the purity of the domains, the fewer the impedances and the faster the exciton journey.
Ade and his co-authors became the first to simultaneously measure the domain size, composition and crystallinity of an organic solar cell. This feat was made possible by ALS beamlines 22.214.171.124, a Resonant Soft X-ray Scattering (R-SoXS) facility; 7.3.3, a Small- and Wide-Angle X-Ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS/) end-station; and 5.3.2, an end-station for Scanning Transmission X-Ray Microscopy (STXM).
Says Collins, the first author on the Advanced Energy Materials paper, "The combination of these three ALS beamlines enabled us to obtain comprehensive pictures of polymer-based organic photovoltaic film morphology from the nano- to the meso-scales. Until now, this information has been unattainable."
The international team used the trifecta of ALS beams to study the polymer/fullerence blend PTB7:PC71BM in thin films made from chlorobenzene solution with and without the addition (three-percent by volume) of the solvent diiodooctane. The films were composed of droplet-like dispersions in which the dominant acceptor domain size without the additive was about 177 nanometers. The addition of the solvent shrank the acceptor domain size down to about 34 nanometers while preserving the film's composition and crystallinity. This resulted in an efficiency gain of 42-percent.
"In showing for the first time just how pure and how large the acceptor domains in organic solar devices actually are, as well as what the interface with the donor domain looks like, we've demonstrated that the impact of solvents and additives on device performance can be dramatic and can be systematically studied," Ade says. "In the future, our technique should help advance the rational design of polymer-based organic photovoltaic films."
This research was primarily supported by the DOE Office of Science, which also supports the ALS.
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: http://www.lbl.gov
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Though parts of Hawaii and the California coast saw a busy hurricane season, the Atlantic Ocean basin was largely spared
Vultures consume toxic bacteria that would sicken or kill humans. Stouter immune systems, colonies of helpful microbes and potent stomach acid may help the carrion eaters gorge with abandon.
Bones found in ancient farming sites are lending insight into the origins of our favorite fowl
Each child with autism is different from the next. One approach rapidly gaining momentum makes sense of this diversity by grouping children together based on their genetics, then looking for patterns in their symptoms.
Children born during or shortly after the 1997 El Niño, which saw 16 times more rain in northern Peru than usual, are shorter than they should be
A technological revolution has reach the Antarctic, where scientists successfully used an underwater sub to gauge the thickness of the sea ice
Study finds that hotter temperatures will limit the amount of weight passenger jets can carry
Researchers have combined nighttime satellite imagery with river maps to quantify where people and property are most in danger of flooding.
Wireless network of radars spots poachers who enter a reserve, or tigers leaving in search of cattle and alerts the wardens
The South African government scrambles to thwart illegal killing and save what remains of its threatened rhino population