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Achieving High Performance Polymer Tandem Solar Cells via Novel Materials Design


Organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices show great promise in low-cost, flexible, lightweight, and large-area energy-generation applications. Nonetheless, most of the materials designed today always suffer from the inherent disadvantage of not having a broad absorption range, and relatively low mobility, which limit the utilization of the full solar spectrum. Tandem solar cells provide an effective way to harvest a broader spectrum of solar radiation by combining two or more solar cells with different absorption bands. However, for polymer solar cells, the performance of tandem devices lags behind single-layer solar cells mainly due to the lack of suitable low-bandgap polymers (near-IR absorbing polymers). In this dissertation, in order to achieve high performance, we focus on design and synthesis of novel low bandgap polymers specifically for tandem solar cells.

In Chapter 3, I demonstrate highly efficient single junction and tandem polymer solar cells featuring a spectrally matched low-bandgap conjugated polymer (PBDTT-DPP: bandgap, ∼1.44 eV). The polymer has a backbone based on alternating benzodithiophene and diketopyrrolopyrrole units. A single-layer device based on the polymer provides a power conversion efficiency of ∼6%. When the polymer is applied to tandem solar cells, a power conversion efficiency of 8.62% is achieved, which was the highest certified efficiency for a polymer solar cell.

To further improve this material system, in Chapter 4, I show that the reduction of the bandgap and the enhancement of the charge transport properties of the low bandgap polymer PBDTT-DPP can be accomplished simultaneously by substituting the sulfur atoms on the DPP unit with selenium atoms. The newly designed polymer PBDTT-SeDPP (Eg = 1.38 eV) shows excellent photovoltaic performance in single junction devices with PCEs over 7% and photo-response up to 900 nm. Tandem polymer solar cells based on PBDTT-SeDPP are also demonstrated with a 9.5% PCE, which are more than 10% enhancement over those based on PBDTT-DPP.

Finally, in Chapter 5, I demonstrate a new polymer system based on alternating dithienopyran and benzothiadiazole units with a bandgap of 1.38 eV, high mobility, deep highest occupied molecular orbital. As a result, a single-junction device shows high external quantum efficiency of >60% and spectral response that extends to 900 nm, with a power conversion efficiency of 7.9%. The polymer enables a solution processed tandem solar cell with certified 10.6% power conversion efficiency under standard reporting conditions, which is the first certified polymer solar cell efficiency over 10%.

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