M. Eita, A. El Labban, F. Cruciani, A. Usman, P.M. Beaujuge and O.F. Mohammed
Advanced Functional Materials, 25, 10, 1558-1564, (2015)
The use of metal oxide interlayers in polymer solar cells has great potential because metal oxides are abundant, thermally stable, and can be used in flexible devices. Here, a layer-by-layer (LbL) protocol is reported as a facile, room-temperature, solution-processed method to prepare electron transport layers from commercial ZnO nanoparticles and polyacrylic acid (PAA) with a controlled and tunable porous structure, which provides large interfacial contacts with the active layer. Applying the LbL approach to bulk heterojunction polymer solar cells with an optimized ZnO layer thickness of ≈25 nm yields solar cell power-conversion efficiencies (PCEs) of ≈6%, exceeding the efficiency of amorphous ZnO interlayers formed by conventional sputtering methods. Interestingly, annealing the ZnO/PAA interlayers in nitrogen and air environments in the range of 60–300 °C reduces the device PCEs by almost 20% to 50%, indicating the importance of conformational changes inherent to the PAA polymer in the LbL-deposited films to solar cell performance. This protocol suggests a new fabrication method for solution-processed polymer solar cell devices that does not require postprocessing thermal annealing treatments and that is applicable to flexible devices printed on plastic substrates.