PCBM and Incompletely Separated Grades of Methanofullerenes Produce Bulk Heterojunctions with Increased Robustness for Ultra-Flexible and Stretchable Electronics

Suchol Savagatrup, Daniel Rodriquez, Adam D. Printz, Alexander B. Sieval, Jan C. Hummelen, Darren J. Lipomi

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49 Scopus citations


An organic solar cell based on a bulk heterojunction (BHJ) of a polymer and a methanofullerene ([60]PCBM or [70]PCBM) exhibits a complex morphology that controls both its photovoltaic and mechanical compliance (robustness, flexibility, and stretchability). Methanofullerenes are excellent electron acceptors; however, they have relatively high cost and production energy (in the purest samples) compared to other small-molecule semiconductors. Moreover, [60]PCBM and [70]PCBM - typical of van der Waals solids - can be stiff and brittle. Stiffness and brittleness may lower the yield of working modules in roll-to-roll manufacturing, shorten the lifetime against mechanical failure in outdoor conditions, and jeopardize wearable and portable applications that demand stretchability or extreme flexibility. This paper tests the hypothesis that "technical grade" PCBM (incompletely separated but otherwise pure blends containing ≥ 90% [60]PCBM or [70]PCBM) could lower the cost of manufacturing organic solar cells while simultaneously increasing their mechanical stability. Measurements of the tensile modulus of five methanofullerene samples, "technical grades" and 99% grades of both [60]PCBM and [70]PCBM, and a 1:1 mixture [60]PCBM and [70]PCBM, along with their blends with regioregular poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT), lead to two important conclusions: (1) films of pure [70]PCBM are approximately five times more compliant than films of pure [60]PCBM; BHJ films with [70]PCBM are also more compliant than those with [60]PCBM. (2) BHJ films comprising technical grades of [60]PCBM and [70]PCBM are approximately two to four times more compliant than are films made using 99% grades. Tensile modulus is found to be an excellent predictor of brittleness: BHJs produced with technical grade methanofullerene accommodate strains 1.4-2.2 times greater than those produced with 99% grades. The smallest range of stretchability was found for BHJs with 99% [60]PCBM (fracture at 3.5% strain), while the greatest was found for technical grade [70]PCBM (11.5% strain). Mechanical properties are correlated to the microstructures of the blended films informed from analyses of UV-vis spectra using the weakly interacting H-aggregate model. Photovoltaic measurements show that solar cells made with technical grade [70]PCBM have similar efficiencies to those made with higher-grade material but with decreased cost and increased mechanical robustness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3902-3911
Number of pages10
JournalChemistry of Materials
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 9 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Materials Chemistry


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