Spectroscopic investigation of excitonic and charge photogeneration processes in organic photovoltaic cells
Organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells show significant promise as a renewable energy resource capable of meeting the world’s large and growing energy needs. Increasing device efficiency is central to achieving an economically viable option for widespread applications. To this end, a better understanding of the structure and dynamics of the electronic excited states is needed. In particular, the mechanism by which excitons (electron-hole pairs) escape their Coulombic attraction and generate photocurrent is yet to be established. In this thesis ultrafast laser spectroscopy, in particular transient absorption and time-resolved photoluminescence, are used to study: exciton relaxation, morphological effects on charge separation, and the pathway leading to triplet exciton states. In Chapter 3, a series of oligothiophenes are synthesised with well-defined conjugation lengths to act as molecular models of polymer backbone sub-units, and thereby probe exciton relaxation processes. Time-resolved photoluminescence (TRPL) and transient absorption (TA) spectroscopy measurements presented in Chapter 4 reveal emission signatures evolve from a mirror image of absorption - which lacks vibronic structure - towards a spectrally narrower and vibronically structured species on the hundreds of femtosecond to early picosecond timescale. Analysis of this spectral evolution shows that a broad distribution of torsional conformers is driven to rapidly planarize in the excited state, including in solid films. This provides evidence that both torsional relaxation and energy migration could contribute to the non-mirror image absorption-emission spectra observed in polymer thin films. Recently, long lived TA signatures have been attributed to triplet excited states with the suggested formation pathway being similar to organic light emitting diodes, whereby non-geminate (bimolecular) charge recombination leads to the formation of both singlet and triplet states. Isolated oligothiophenes in solution provide an ideal model system to investigate the role of structural relaxation on triplet exciton formation. Through analysis of TA spectral dynamics in Chapter 5, singlet and triplet exciton populations were tracked. Restriction of the torsional relaxation increased triplet yield suggesting vibrational hot states could drive triplet formation. This model could aid in understanding triplet exciton formation in polymer-based solar cells via spin-mixing instead of non-geminate recombination. In a series of polymer:fullerene blends, the link between the nature of polymerfullerene intermixing and charge generation pathways was investigated. It is shown in Chapter 6 that free charge generation is most efficient in a 3-phase morphology that features intimately mixed polymer:fullerene regions amongst neat polymer and fullerene phases. Distinct spectroscopic signatures made it possible to determine whether holes occupy disordered or crystalline polymer chains. TA spectral dynamics reveal the migration of holes from intermixed to pure olymer regions in 3-phase morphology blends, which contrasted with observations in 2-phase blends. The energy gradient between the intermixed and phase-pure regions may be sufficient to drive efficient separation of charge pairs initially generated in intermixed regions, with free charges subsequently percolating through these phase-pure domains. The photophysics of a high performance polymer:polymer blend is studied in Chapter 7 in an effort to elucidate how these blends can rival their polymer:fullerene counterparts. Optical spectroscopy reveals incomplete exciton dissociation and rapid geminate recombination in the blends. This is shown to result from a largely phase-separated morphology with domains greater than the exciton diffusion length. Significant loss of charge carriers on early timescales highlights increasing polymer: polymer solar cell efficiency requires optimizing blend morphology to realise facile charge separation. Taken together, this thesis presents a valuable spectroscopic insight into the pathway of efficient charge separation and the importance of both blend morphology and polymer structure.