- Nano Express
- Open Access
Efficient Performance of Electrostatic Spray-Deposited TiO2 Blocking Layers in Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells after Swift Heavy Ion Beam Irradiation
© Sudhagar et al. 2010
Received: 24 June 2010
Accepted: 14 August 2010
Published: 16 September 2010
A compact TiO2 layer (~1.1 μm) prepared by electrostatic spray deposition (ESD) and swift heavy ion beam (SHI) irradiation using oxygen ions onto a fluorinated tin oxide (FTO) conducting substrate showed enhancement of photovoltaic performance in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). The short circuit current density (Jsc = 12.2 mA cm-2) of DSSCs was found to increase significantly when an ESD technique was applied for fabrication of the TiO2 blocking layer, compared to a conventional spin-coated layer (Jsc = 8.9 mA cm-2). When SHI irradiation of oxygen ions of fluence 1 × 1013 ions/cm2 was carried out on the ESD TiO2, it was found that the energy conversion efficiency improved mainly due to the increase in open circuit voltage of DSSCs. This increased energy conversion efficiency seems to be associated with improved electronic energy transfer by increasing the densification of the blocking layer and improving the adhesion between the blocking layer and the FTO substrate. The adhesion results from instantaneous local melting of the TiO2 particles. An increase in the electron transport from the blocking layer may also retard the electron recombination process due to the oxidized species present in the electrolyte. These findings from novel treatments using ESD and SHI irradiation techniques may provide a new tool to improve the photovoltaic performance of DSSCs.
Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) are a promising photovoltaic system for next generation solar cells that contain mesoporous nanocrystalline semiconductors like TiO2, ZnO and SnO2 as photoanodes anchored with dye molecules. These dye molecules serve as light harvesters [1–3]. It is believed that DSSCs are more cost effective than conventional solar cells due to their low production cost. Recently, intensive research activities have focused on enhancing the photoconversion efficiency of DSSCs by improving charge transport in the electronic interfaces such as (a) TiO2/transparent conducting oxide (b) TiO2/electrolyte (c) dye/TiO2 (d) dye/electrolyte and (e) electrolyte/counter electrode. For instance, electrons on either side of the TiO2 layer or in the transparent conducting oxide (TCO) such as fluorinated tin oxide (FTO) may recombine with the oxidized redox couples such as I3-. Electron recombination is one of the major factors that determine the high energy conversion efficiency (2e-+I3- → 3I-) [4, 5]. Therefore, there have been several different approaches to reduce or block the recombination of electrons on TCO and TiO2 layers to improve the energy conversion efficiency. Among the interfaces described previously, the one between TiO2/transparent conducting oxides faces severe recombination problems, since the porous nature of photoanodes results in uncovered sites on the TCO layer, resulting in sites for electron recombination with I3- redox species in the electrolyte.
Considerable attention has been focused on the methods to reduce electron recombination at the interface between TCO substrate and electrolyte containing I3-. In order to overcome this recombination problem, a compact oxide layer (pore-free and dense) is commonly introduced between the mesoporous TiO2 and the TCO substrate, which blocks electron recombination with the electrolyte via a so-called blocking effect . Furthermore, the blocking layer should provide good adhesive properties between the TCO and the mesoporous TiO2 layers to facilitate electron transport from the mesoporous TiO2 to the TCO layers. From this perspective, a variety of oxides have been investigated such as Nb2O5 , ZnO , MgO , Al2O3  and SiO2  in addition to TiO2 . Different preparation techniques have been widely exploited to form blocking layers such as sol-gel , spin coating , sputtering [14, 15] and spray-coating  techniques. Therefore, the formation of a blocking layer between mesoporous TiO2 and the TCO substrate has been investigated, which not only blocks electron recombination but also facilitates electron transport.
In this study, electrostatic spray deposition (ESD) was applied first for fabricating a TiO2 blocking layer, and swift heavy ion beam irradiation (SHI) was subsequently performed as a post-treatment, since ESD allows particle size and shape to be controlled by varying processing parameters such as the polymer concentration in the spray solution and applied voltage. Furthermore, a conventional electrospinning setup, in which the conducting FTO electrode directly connected to the electric circuit (negative terminal) may produce an electro-hydrodynamic field between a collector (FTO) and a sol injector (syringe), may improve adhesion between the sprayed particles and the FTO substrate. Particle growth achieved via ESD is more effective than that obtained by conventional spray pyrolysis  or spin coating. Chen et al.  reported nanostructured TiO2 films fabricated by ESD and studied their phase transformations by sintering. Zhang et al.  demonstrated the feasibility of ESD-derived uniform TiO2 particles in DSSCs and suggested that the electrical contact between the conducting substrate and TiO2 particle (electron transport layer) plays a crucial role in power conversion efficiency, since the presence and the removal of the polymer molecules in the ESD layer during sintering may result in poor contact among TiO2 nanoparticles and poor adhesion to conductive glass substrates. These will impose severe constraints on the electron transport from the mesoporous TiO2 layer to the FTO substrate. Therefore, an alternative post-treatment may be necessary to obtain a compact, thin blocking layer with good contact among TiO2 nanoparticles and good adhesion to the conductive glass substrates , resulting in rapid electron transport. SHI was employed as a post-treatment for improving both adhesion and contact. Recently, Singh et al.  reported that SHI irradiation improved the transmittance of conducting substrates (indium-doped tin oxide), and their performance was affected in DSSCs. The SHI method is based on the interactions of ions with solids, where the temperature around the trajectory of the ion increases remarkably. The shock waves, or so-called pressure waves, develop due to the temperature spike, which diffuses the heat radially in the target . This thermal spike can generate local heat along TiO2 nanoparticles. When the temperature is greater than the melting temperature of TiO2 (~1,300°C), a liquid phase is formed in this specific region. This high temperature region cools down immediately due to very rapid heat transfer to the surroundings, resulting in solidification of the surface, specifically melted TiO2 nanoparticles  that form a highly adhesive TiO2 blocking layer with the FTO substrate. To best of our knowledge, this is the first report of its kind to apply the SHI irradiation technique for obtaining an efficient blocking layer in DSSCs. The performance of the SHI-irradiated blocking layer was investigated in comparison with the unirradiated (pristine) and conventional spin-coated TiO2 blocking layers.
The following procedure was used for the preparation of a TiO2 blocking layer on fluorinated tin oxide (FTO) substrates: 15 wt% poly(vinyl acetate) (PVAc) (Mn ~ 5,000,000) solution was prepared by dissolving PVAc in dimethyl formamide (DMF) and dropping it into a mixture containing 1 g of titanium isopropoxide and 0.5 g of acetic acid while stirring. The as-prepared TiO2 sol was electrosprayed onto a grounded FTO substrate at 17 kV with a constant distance of about 10 cm between FTO and the electrospray syringe at a flow rate of 1.0 ml/h. The resultant ESD TiO2 blocking layer was ~1.1 μm thick and was sintered at 450°C for 30 min in air. In order to prepare SHI-irradiated films, the as-prepared ESD TiO2 films were used without sintering.
SHI was conducted using 15 UD Pelletron tandem accelerator facilities available in the Materials Science Beamline at the Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC), New Delhi, India. The vacuum of the experimental chamber was in the range of 10-6 torr. The TiO2 films, which act as blocking layers, were subjected to 100 MeV O ion irradiation with fluence of 1 × 1013 ions/cm2. The electronic and nuclear energy loss values for 100 MeV O ions in TiO2, calculated using the SRIM code simulation program (SRIM-2010) [24, 25], were 1.284 × 102 and 6.739 × 10-2 eV/Å, respectively. The range of O ions in this experiment is about 54.14 μm, indicating that the entire passage of ions in the film is dominated by electronic energy loss. Further experimental details were published elsewhere .
In order to compare the effect of the blocking layer, two kinds of DSSCs were assembled: (a) a pristine cell fabricated from the ESD TiO2 blocking layer and (b) a SHI cell using an irradiated ESD TiO2 blocking layer. In addition, a reference cell was fabricated from the TiO2 blocking layer prepared by conventional spin coating (Ti(IV) bis (ethyl acetonato)-diisopropoxide solution in 2 wt% of 1-butanol) and was also tested under identical experimental conditions. Further, TiO2 photoanodes thickness about ~6 μm were prepared on the TiO2 blocking layer using TiO2 paste (Solaronix) by a doctor blade technique  and subsequently sintered at 450°C for 30 min in air.
The surface morphologies of the TiO2 thin films before and after SHI irradiation were studied by field-emission scanning electron microscopy (JEOL-JSM 6330F). The crystalline phases of the TiO2 films were determined by X-ray diffraction (XRD) using a diffractometer (Rigagu Denki Japan) with CuKα radiation. The conductivity of the samples was studied via the two-probe method.
Results and Discussion
Influence of TiO2 blocking layer on photovoltaic parameters of DSSCs
Jsc (mA cm-2)
O2 ion irradiated (1 × 1013 ions/cm2)
A comparison of dark currents between the investigated cells provides qualitative information about the electron recombination process . In DSSCs, preventing the recapture of photoinjected electrons by I3- is vital to obtain a high open circuit photovoltage. By inserting the blocking layer between the FTO substrate and the TiO2 mesoporous layer, the reaction possibilities of I3- with the photoinjected electrons on the FTO substrate are significantly hindered, as demonstrated by the reduced dark current . Here, the dark current–voltage curves of the DSSCs using different blocking layers are presented in the lower part of Figure 6. The less dark current observed in the SHI-irradiated cell compared with the pristine cell may be attributed to the better electrical contact between the blocking layer and the FTO substrate, and the compact nature of the blocking layer as well. Furthermore, during SHI irradiation, it is expected that Sn4+ particles from the FTO layer may fuse with the TiO2 layer occupying the oxygen vacancies in TiO2, thus lowering the Fermi level of TiO2. For instance, the Fermi level position of the Sn-doped TiO2 layer is lower than that of the TiO2 mesoporous layer, which is favorable for fast electron injection from mesoporous TiO2 particles to the conducting substrate .
Influence of TiO2 blocking layer on electrochemical parameters of DSSCs
O2 ion-irradiated (1 × 1013 ions/cm2)
The series resistance, Rs, was decreased markedly in the case of the pristine and O ion-irradiated electrodes, compared to the reference electrode. This is mostly associated with better electron transfer through the blocking layer due to better contact and better adhesion. The RCT2 value for SHI cells was increased markedly compared to the reference and the pristine electrodes. The increased RCT2 value may be mostly due to the fast electron transfer through the blocking layer. Hence, the increased electron transfer leads to lowering electron concentration of TiO2 mesoporous particles, which is responsible for observed high RCT2 (57.3 Ω) values in the O ion-irradiated sample.
The results described above suggest that contact among nanoparticles and the adhesion properties of a blocking layer with an FTO substrate may improve the performance of dye-sensitized solar cells. Further studies using different ion energies and fluence may further explain the role of electronic energy loss on these devices and allow development of precise control of the blocking layer.
An electrostatic spray deposition (ESD) technique followed by SHI irradiation using 100 MeV oxygen ions resulted in the formation of an efficient, dense TiO2 blocking layer between the TiO2 particle layer and the TCO substrate. The blocking layer promotes charge transport from the TiO2 layer to the TCO substrate by modifying the TCO/TiO2 interfaces and causes effective electrical contact between the two layers. The formation of an effective, compact blocking layer was possible due to instantaneous surface melting of the ESD TiO2 nanoparticles associated with a local temperature rise upon oxygen ion irradiation. Energy conversion efficiency was improved to a large extent (η = 5.5%), compared to that of the conventional blocking layer (η = 3.8%), mainly due to the increase in electron transport through the blocking layer, resulting from better contact among TiO2 nanoparticles and better adhesion with the TCO substrate.
We thank Dr. A. Roy, Director, Inter-University Accelerator Centre, New Delhi, India for providing us beam time for SHI irradiation. This work was supported by the Engineering Research Center Program through a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) (2010-0001842) and also by the World Class University (WCU) program (No. R31-2008-000-10092).
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