ORGANIC SOLAR CELLS  Organic solar cells enhanced by molecular additives

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Jochen Schwab

Computational experiments on semiconducting polymers carried out by researchers at Lehigh University have shown that the addition of small molecules enhances performance and stability when a material is under harsh loading conditions such as stretching and compression.

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An image showcasing research from the Lehigh research team’s laboratory.
An image showcasing research from the Lehigh research team’s laboratory.
(Source: Lehigh University)

This could be very promising for the solar cell industry and open up new avenues for research and innovation, particularly concerning organic solar cells which are ideal for use in flexible electronics due to the malleable nature of semiconducting polymers. Recent research on the mechanical stability of photoactive layers in organic cells is also providing a better understanding of these materials.

Exploring these materials’ properties

It’s this potential, along with recent works that have unlocked new understandings of them, that prompted the research team at Lehigh University to explore how stable these materials are when they’re deformed, and whether their properties can be retained under harsh loading conditions when the solar cells could be subject to stretching and compression.

Using computational experiments, the research team demonstrated that through the addition of small molecules to the semiconducting polymer blend, the performance and stability of materials used in organic solar cells can be enhanced.

"Based on previous literature, we anticipated that variations in the materials processing parameters would influence the structure as well as the thermal and mechanical properties of these solar cells," says Balasubramanian, who goes on to note that the core finding in this study is that the presence of small molecular additives can augment the mechanical properties of the material. This is the new knowledge gained from their work.

In this study, the team also demonstrated that the mechanical stability and flexibility of typical organic solar cells is significantly impacted by molecular additives. This, the team claims, could “prove crucial” towards realizing the commercialization of organic solar cells.

Whole new directions for research

The team’s results were achieved by performing molecular simulations on a supercomputer. In particular, the world’s fastest academic supercomputer, Frontera, located at the University of Texas at Austin. The predictions consisted of the deformation mechanisms of the polymer blend under straining conditions, as well as the examination of the material’s structure when loaded.

Although similar approaches have been considered for exploring the properties of organic photovoltaic materials, the correlation between structure and elastic properties is not something that had been done before. Through the addition of molecular additives to the polymer blends, advanced solar power materials and devices can be fabricated that can weather extreme operational conditions while delivering superior performance.

According to the researchers, this work could potentially provide whole new directions for scientific practices in this field of materials.