Porphyrins for dye-sensitised solar cells: New insights into efficiency-determining electron transfer steps
Porphyrin molecules offer immense potential as the light harvesting component of dye-sensitised nanocrystalline TiO2 solar cells. Synthetic porphyrin dyes were amongst the first dyes trialled for sensitisation of inorganic semiconducting oxides. Today, they exhibit the best performance reported for dye-sensitised solar cells. Accompanying the significant performance improvement over the last two decades is a much improved understanding of efficiency-determining fundamental electron transfer steps, from charge photogeneration to recombination. In this feature article we highlight our recent discoveries of the influence of porphyrin molecule structure on efficiency determining electron transfer kinetics and device performance by systematically changing the molecular structure and observing electron injection and recombination kinetics using time-resolved optical and electrical probes. Despite our observation of ultrafast charge injection for all porphyrin dyes studied by transient absorption spectroscopy, the injection yield estimated using an internal standard remains below 100% and depends strongly on the molecular structure. The observed discrepancy between kinetic competition and the injection yield is attributed to non-injecting dyes, probably arising due to inhomogeneity. A very interesting sub-ns (0.5 ns to 100 ns) charge recombination channel between photo-injected electrons and porphyrin cations is observed, which is found to be more prominent in free-base porphyrin dyes with a conjugated linker. Charge recombination between the acceptor species in the redox containing electrolyte and injected electrons is shown to be an important limitation of most porphyrin-sensitised solar cells, accelerated by the presence of porphyrin molecules at the TiO2-electrolyte interface. This recombination reaction is strongly dependent on the porphyrin molecular structure. Bulky substituents, using a porphyrin dimer instead of a porphyrin monomer, a light soaking treatment of freshly prepared films and co-sensitization of TiO2 with multiple dyes are shown to be successful strategies to improve electron lifetime. Finally, new developments unique to porphyrin dye-sensitised solar cells, including performance enhancements from a light exposure treatment of a zinc porphyrin dye, a significant performance improvement observed after co-sensitisation of TiO2 with free-base and zinc porphyrin dyes and the use of porphyrin dimers with increased light harvesting in thin-film TiO2 solar cells are described.