Morphological Control of the Photoactive Layer in Bulk Heterojunction Organic Solar Cells

  • Yisong Su

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


For its inherent advantages, such as lightweight, low cost, flexibility, and opportunity to cover large surface areas, organic solar cells have attracted more and more attention in both academia and industry. However, the efficiency of organic solar cell is still much lower than silicon solar cells, but steadily rising as it now stands above 8%. The architecture of bulk heterojunction solar cells can improve the performance of organic solar cell a lot, but these improvements are highly dependent on the morphology of photoactive layer. Therefore, by controlling the morphology of photoactive layer, most commonly composed of a P3HT donor polymer and PCBM small molecule, the performance of organic solar cells could be optimized. The use of solvent additives in the solution formulation is particularly interesting, because it is a low cost method of controlling the phase separation of the photoactive layer and possibly removing the need for subsequent thermal and solvent vapor annealing. However, the role of the solvent additive remains not well understood and much debate remains on the mechanisms by which it impacts phase separation. In the first part of this thesis, we investigate the role of the solvent additive on the individual components (solvent, donor and acceptor) of the solution and the photoactive layer both in the bulk solution, during solution-processing and in the post-processing solid state of the film. In the second part of this thesis, we investigate the role of the additive on the blended solution state and resulting thin film phase separation. Finally, we propose a new method of controlling phase separation based on the insight into the role of the solvent additive. In the first part, we used an additive [octandiethiol (OT)] in the solvent to help the aggregation of P3HT in the solution. From the UV-vis experiments, the crystallinity of P3HT in the solutions increased while it decreased in thin films with steady increase of additive concentration. This method could be used for one step, annealing-free fabrication of organic solar cell with high performance. The solution can potentially be used to prepare ink for the large scale roll-to-roll ink-jet printing of P3HT thin films. Secondly, from the experiments it is found that differences in the evaporation rate and solubility of the components of the photoactive layer may be part of the reason for morphological changes. With lower evaporation rate than the host solvent, the additive concentration in the solution keeps increasing with time during the final stages of spin coating. In addition, the phase separation is increased with the increase of additive concentration, as demonstrated by AFM and TEM. By controlling the additive concentration, it is possible to control the phase separation of photoactive layer in pristine device. It is also found that the additive can change the wetting ability of the solvent to produce films with high surface coverage. With this information in hand, we modified the solution process of BHJ layers. A layer of crystals was deposited from the OT-containing solution by postponing the start of the spin coating for several minutes (delay time) after the solution is dropped on the surface of substrate. We found this to be a very effective method of increasing the phase separation and crystallinity of the photoactive materials. This effect was not possible when using oDCB solvent without any additive.
Date of AwardJul 23 2011
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorAram Amassian (Supervisor)


  • Organic solar cell
  • Photoactive layer
  • Morphology control
  • Solvents additives
  • Pre-spin-coating deposition

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