Nanoparticle Encapsulation and Aggregation Control in Anti-reflection Coatings and Organic Photovoltaics

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Virginia Tech


Nanoparticles present a myriad of physical, optical, electrical, and chemical properties that provide valuable functionality to thin-film technologies. In order to successfully exploit these aspects of nanoparticles, appropriate dispersion and stability measures must be implemented. In this dissertation, different types of nanoparticles are coated with polymer and metallic layers to enable their effectiveness in both anti-reflection coatings (ARCs) and organic photovoltaics (OPVs).

Ionic self-assembled multilayers (ISAMs) fabrication of poly(allylamine hydrochloride) (PAH) and silica nanoparticles (SiO2 NPs) results in highly-transparent, porous ARCs. However, the ionic bonding and low contact area between the film constituents lack sufficient mechanical and chemical stability necessary for commercial application. Chemical stability was established in the film by the encapsulation of SiO2 NPs by a photo-crosslinkable polyelectrolyte, diazo-resin (DAR) to make modified silica nanoparticles (MSNPs). UV-irradiation induced decomposition of the diazonium group and the development of covalent bonds with polyanions. Crosslinked MSNP/poly(styrene sulfonate) (PSS) ISAMs exhibited excellent anti-reflectivity (transmittance >98%, reflectance <0.2% in the visible range) and chemical stability against dissolution in a ternary solvent. Mechanical stability was also achieved by the incorporation of two additional PAH and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) layers to create PAH/PAA/PAH/SiO2 NP interlayer ISAM ARCs. Thermal crosslinking of PAH and PAA facilitates the formation of covalent amide bonds between the two polyelectrolytes, as confirmed by FTIR. Since PAH and PAA are both weak polyelectrolytes, adjustment of the solution pH causes significant variations in the polymer chain charge densities. At low PAA pH, the decreased chain charge densities caused large SiO2 NP encapsulation thicknesses in the film with great mechanical stability, but poor anti-reflection (≤97% transmittance). At high PAA pH, the high chain charge densities induced thin encapsulation layers, insufficient mechanical stability, but excellent anti-reflection. At trade-off between the two extremes was founded at a PAA pH of 5.2 with excellent anti-reflection (less than 99% transmittance) and sufficient mechanical stability. The normal force required for scratch initiation was increased by a factor of seven for films made from a pH of 5.2 compared to those made from a pH of 6.0.

Organic photovoltaics (OPVs) are an attractive area of solar cell research due to their inexpensive nature, ease of large-scale fabrication, flexibility, and low-weight. The introduction of the bulk heterojunction greatly improved charge transport and OPV performance by the blending of the active layer electron donor and acceptor materials, poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) and [6,6]-phenyl-C61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM), into an interpenetrating network with high interfacial area between adjacent nanodomains. However, constrained active layer thicknesses restrict the total optical absorption and device performance. The localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) of plasmonic nanoparticles, such as anisotropic silver nanoplates (AgNPs), provides large local field enhancements and in coupling with the active layer, substantial optical absorption improvements can be realized. AgNPs were first integrated into the hole-transport layer (PEDOT:PSS) by ISAM deposition. Here, PEDOT:PSS was used as a negatively-charged ISAM layer. Encapsulation of the AgNPs by PAH (ENPs) provided a positive surface charge and allowed for the creation of ENP/PEDOT:PSS ISAMs. Stability against acidic etching by PEDOT:PSS was imparted to the AgNPs by coating the edges with gold (AuAgNPs). The AuAgNP ISAMs substantially improved the optical absorption, but were ineffective at increasing the device performance. The dispersion effects of functionalized polymer coatings on AgNPs were also deeply investigated. Functionalized AgNPs were dispersed in methanol and spin-coated onto the active layer. When the AgNPs possessed hydrophilic properties, such as unfunctionalized or functionalized by poly(ethylene glycol) methyl ether thiol (PEG-SH), they formed large aggregates due to unfavorable interactions with the hydrophobic P3HT:PCBM layer. However, the hydrophobic functionalization of AgNPs with thiol-terminated polystyrene (PS-SH) (PS-AgNPs) resulted in excellent dispersion, optical absorption enhancements, and device performance improvements. At a PS-AgNP concentration of 0.57 nM, the device efficiency was increased by 32% over the reference devices.



Anti-reflection coatings, Organic photovoltaics, Ionic Self-Assembled Multilayers, Nanoparticles, Polymers, Nanocomposites, Stability, Plasmonics