A collaborative project undertaken by researchers from ICIQ’s Palomares and Vidal groups, the Physical Chemistry of Surfaces and Interfaces group at the Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC) and IMDEA Nanociencahave has examined the interfaces in perovskite solar cells to better understand the impact that changing the materials used in such cells has on its performance.

Collaborative project examines PSC interfaces to deepen understanding of cell performance imagePerovskite solar cells with different materials as HTMs

This work sheds light on the reasons behind the differences observed in perovskite solar cells’ performance by comparing four different HTMs that present close chemical and physical properties.

A commonly used HTM, spiro-OMeTAD, is known to be prone to degradation. a considerable bulk of current research is therefore focused on finding alternatives. “Scientists have been designing new molecules that could replace spiro-OMeTAD for years. Looking for molecules with similar electrical and optic characteristics than spiro-OMeTAD and hoping to get similar results. But when testing new HTMs, instead of getting similar results, the cells worked very badly. So, we decided to understand why this happened,” explains Núria F. Montcada, a postdoctoral researcher at the Palomares group and one of the first authors of the paper.

The researchers realized that new molecules with the potential to replace spiro-OMeTAD as HTM were selected on the basis of their properties in solution. However, in functional solar cells, these molecules are prepared in the form of thin films whose surfaces, in turn, are placed in contact with other materials, forming interfaces. The created interfaces may confer changes in the properties of the molecules.

Through the collaboration with ICMAB scientists, the surface work function of each HTM layer on perovskites solar cells was measured to find that “Spiro-OMeTAD energy levels align perfectly with respect to the other components of the cell, while the energetic landscape is less favorable for layers of the new HTM molecules tested. Surfaces and interfaces created in the solar cell stack have a crucial role in the functional device performances,” says Carmen Ocal, researcher at ICMAB. “We have to be aware that the perovskite-HTM interface may shift the energy levels and produce undesired energy misalignments. We’ve come to demonstrate that the study of molecules needs to match the conditions under which the molecule is going to be used — otherwise, molecule design is just trial and error,” concludes Montcada.