The explanation has been published in Nature Communications.
Remarkable waveformSome background: When light in the form of photons is absorbed in a semi-conducting polymer, an exciton forms. Excitons are bound electrone-hole pairs in the polymer. The electrons are not released, and the transport of charges, the photocurrent, does not arise. When the electron-donating polymer is mixed with a molecule that accepts electrons, the electrons can be released. The electrons then only need to take a small jump to become free, and the loss of energy is kept to a minimum. The holes and the electrons transport the photocurrent and the solar cell starts to produce electricity.
This has been well-known for a long time. However, the remarkable waveform then appeared in Qingzhen Bian’s experiment.
Olle Inganäs, Professor emeritus Photo credit THOR BALKHED“The only conceivable explanation is that coherence arises between the excited system and the separated charges. We asked the quantum chemists to look into this and the results we obtain in repeated experiments agree well with their calculations”, says Olle Inganäs.
In the quantum scale, atoms vibrate, and they vibrate faster when they are heated. It is these vibrations that interact with each other in some way and with the excited system of electrons: the phases of the waves follow each other and a state of coherence arises.
“The coherence helps to create the charges that give the photocurrent, which takes place at room temperature. But we don’t know why or how yet”, says Olle Inganäs.
The same quantum coherence is found in the biological world.
“An intense debate is ongoing among biophysics researchers whether systems that use photosynthesis have learnt to exploit coherence or not. I find it unlikely that millions of years of evolution have not resulted in the natural world exploiting the phenomenon”, says Olle Inganäs.
“If we understood better how the charge carriers are formed and how the process is controlled, we should be able to use it to increase the efficiency of organic solar cells. The vibrations depend on the structure of the molecule, and if we can design molecules that contribute to increasing the photocurrent, we can also use the phenomenon to our advantage”, he says.
Principal source of funds for the research has been the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
Vibronic coherence contributes to photocurrent generation in organic semiconductor heterojunction diodes, Qingzhen Bian, Fei Ma, Shula Chen, Qi Wei, Xiaojun Su, Irina A. Buyanova, Weimin M. Chen, Carlito S. Ponseca Jr, Mathieu Linares, Khadga J. Karki, Arkady Yartsev & Olle Inganäs. Nature Communications 2020. DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-14476-w
Qingzhen Bian will defend his doctoral thesis April 2 2020, Campus Valla, Linköping University.
Excitonic and charge carrier transport in organic materials and device applications, Qingzhen Bian, Biomolekylär och organisk elektronik, Institutionen för fysik, kemi och biologi, 2020.
Qingzhen Bian Photo credit Magnus Johansson