Identification of the degradation mechanisms of organic solar cells
: active layer and interfacial layers

  • Isabel Fraga Domínguez

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Organic Solar Cells (OSCs) represent a photovoltaic technology with multiple interesting application properties. However, the establishment of this technology into the market is subject to the achievement of operational lifetimes appropriate to their application purposes. Thus, comprehensive understanding of the degradation mechanisms occurring in OSCs is mandatory in both selecting more intrinsically stable components and/or device architectures and implementing strategies that mitigate the encountered stability issues.
Inverted devices can suffer from mechanical stress and delamination at the interface between the active layer, e.g. poly(3-hexylthiophene):[6,6]-phenyl-C61-butyric acid methyl ester (P3HT:PCBM), and the hole transport layer, e.g. poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):poly(p-styrene sulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS). This work proposes the incorporation of a thin adhesive interlayer, consisting of a diblock copolymer composed of a P3HT block and a thermally-triggerable,
alkyl-protected PSS block. In this context, the synthesis of poly(neopentyl p-styrene sulfonate) (PNSS) with controlled molar mass and low dispersity (Ð ≤ 1.50) via Reversible Addition-Fragmentation chain Transfer (RAFT) polymerisation has been extensively studied. Subsequently, Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) was explored to characterise the thermal deprotection of P3HT-b-PNSS thin layers to yield amphiphilic P3HT-b-PSS, indicating that surface deprotection prior to thermal treatment could occur. Finally, structural variation of the alkyl protecting group in PSS allowed reducing the thermal treatment duration from 3 hours (P3HT-b-PNSS) to 45 minutes for the poly(isobutyl p-styrene sulfonate) (PiBSS) analogous copolymer.
Another critical issue regarding the stability of OSCs is the sunlight-driven chemical degradation of the active layer. In the study herein, the combination of experimental techniques and theoretical calculations has allowed identification of the structural weaknesses of poly[(4,4’- bis(2-ethylhexyl) dithieno [3,2-b:2’,3’-d]silole)-2,6-diyl-alt-(4,7-bis(2-thienyl)-2,1,3-benzothiadiazole)-5,5’-diyl], Si-PCPDTBT, upon photochemical treatment in air. Additionally, the study of the relative photodegradation rates in air of a series of polymers with systematically modified backbones and/or alkyl side chains has shown no direct correlation between chemical structure and stability. It is proposed instead that photostability is highly dependent on the crystalline character of the deposited films. Furthermore, it was verified that photostability of blends based on these polymers is dictated by the (de)stabilising effect that [6,6]-phenyl-C61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) has over each polymer. Finally, a multiscale analysis on the degradation of solar cells based on poly[4,4' bis(2- ethylhexyl) dithieno[3,2-b:2',3'-d]silole)-2,6-diyl-alt-[2,5 bis(3 tetradecylthiophen 2-yl)thiazole[5,4-d]thiazole)-1,8-diyl] and PCBM, indicated that by judicious selection of device layers, architectures, and encapsulation materials, operational lifetimes up to 3.3 years with no efficiency losses can be successfully achieved.
Date of Award19 Feb 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul Topham (Supervisor)


  • organic solar cells
  • poly(neopentyl p-styrene sulfonate)
  • RAFT
  • photostability
  • low bandgap polymer

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