Polymer Solar Cells – Non Toxic Processing and Stable Polymer Photovoltaic Materials

Roar Søndergaard

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

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The field of polymer solar cell has experienced enormous progress in the previous years, with efficiencies of small scale devices (~1 mm2) now exceeding 8%. However, if the polymer solar cell is to achieve success as a renewable energy resource, mass production of sufficiently stable and efficient cell must be achieved. For a continuous success it is therefore essential to transfer the accomplishments from the laboratory to large scale facilities for actual production. In order to do so, several issues have to be approached. Among these are more environmentally friendly processing and development of more stable materials.
The field of polymer solar cells has evolved around the use of toxic and carcinogenic solvents like chloroform, benzene, toluene, chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene and xylene. As large scale production of
organic solar cells is envisaged to production volumes corresponding to several GWpeek, this is not a suitable approach from neither a production nor environmental point of view. As a consequence new
materials, which can be processed from more environmentally friendly solvents (preferably water), need to be developed.
In this thesis, the issue has been approached through synthesis of polymers carrying water coordinating side chains which allow for processing from semi-aqueous solution. A series of different side chains were synthesized and incorporated into the final polymers as thermocleavable tertiary esters. Using a cleavable side chain induces stability to solar cells as it slows down diffusion though the active layer, but just as important it renders the layer insoluble. This allows for further processing, using the same solvent, without dissolving already processed layers, and resulted in the first ever reported solar cells where all layers are processed from aqueous or semi-aqueous solution. As previously mentioned many advantages can be achieved by use of thermocleavable materials. Unfortunately the cleavage temperatures are too high to allow processing on flexible substrates like PET. As a final result, the reduction in cleavage temperature of thermocleavable thiophene polymers with ester side chains, through acid catalysis have been examined. The study shows that substantial lowering of the temperatures can be obtained for tertiary, secondary and primary esters, but further research needs to be performed in order to transfer the reaction to solar cells.
From a stability point of view, the current state of the art polymers are not stable enough to be processed by large area processing methods like roll-to-roll (R2R) coating techniques, as this has to be performed in air. This calls for the development of new materials, which can endure such processing conditions, and in this context it would be preferable to have a guideline towards which properties of a polymer that either induces stability or causes it to degrade. As part of a larger study, aiming at mapping the relative stability influence of different donors and acceptors in low-band-gap polymers, four polymers were synthesized for examination of their photochemical stabilities. Two of these were furthermore optimized for R2R processing and were tested together with other cells, in an outdoor study involving 8 countries. Panels containing the cells encapsulated in polyurethane were manufactured, measured and installed by travelling between the different locations. Following 4½ months outdoor exposure the trip was done again in order to dismount the panels for shipment back to Denmark, where final characterization was made. The use of polyurethane for encapsulation showed improved conservations of the cells compared to previous studies.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKgs. Lyngby
PublisherDepartment of Energy Conversion and Storage, Technical University of Denmark
Number of pages346
ISBN (Electronic)978-87-550-3929-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Risø-PhD-82
  • Risø-PhD-82(EN)
  • Risø-PhD-0082


Polymer Solar Cells for Solar Energy Conversion

Krebs, F. C.


Project: Research

Cite this

Søndergaard, R. (2012). Polymer Solar Cells – Non Toxic Processing and Stable Polymer Photovoltaic Materials. Department of Energy Conversion and Storage, Technical University of Denmark. Risø-PhD, No. 82(EN)