Aggregation of zinc oxide nanoparticles: From non-aqueous dispersions to composites used as photoactive layers in hybrid solar cells

R. Rhodes, M. Horie, H. Chen, Z. Wang, M. L. Turner, B. R. Saunders

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Hybrid solar cells are third-generation solar cells that are colloidal in nature. The composites used as photoactive layers within hybrid solar cells comprise conjugated polymers and inorganic semiconductor nanoparticles (e.g., nanocrystals and nanorods). The composites are usually prepared by spin casting non-aqueous dispersions consisting of polymer, nanoparticles and a co-solvent blend. The factors governing colloidal stability of the dispersions used for composite preparation have not been reported in detail. Here, the factors governing the stability of non-aqueous ZnO nanocrystal and nanorod dispersions as well as the relationship between dispersion stability and the extents of nanoparticle aggregation within model composites are studied. The polymers used are poly[[(2-methyl-4-methoxyphenyl)imino]-9,9-di-(2′-ethylhexyl)-fluorene-2,7-diyl] (PTAA) and poly[2,6-(4,4-bis-(2-ethyhexyl)-4H-cyclopenta [2,1-b;3,4-b′]-dithiophene)-alt-4,7-(2,1,3-benzo thiadiazole)] (PCPDTBT). FTIR in conjunction with thermogravimetric analysis data showed that up to 30% of the surfaces for the as-prepared ZnO nanocrystals and nanorods were occupied by acetate ligands. 1-Propylamine was found to form covalent coordinate bonds with ZnO and this contributes the ability of this co-solvent to promote enhanced ZnO dispersion stability. The morphologies of the composites were investigated using optical microscopy, AFM and TEM. A strong link was found between colloidal stability of the parent ZnO dispersions, extent of nanoparticle aggregation within the composites and pKa for the conjugate acid of the co-solvent. Electrostatic interactions did not control ZnO dispersion stability or composite morphology. Extensive nanometer-scale nanoparticle aggregation was evident within the composites. This was attributed to incompatibility between the polymer and (ligand covered) ZnO nanoparticles. Strategies for reducing uncontrolled nanoparticle aggregation are suggested. © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)261-271
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2010


    • Composites
    • Hybrid solar cells
    • Nanoparticles
    • Non-aqueous dispersion stability
    • ZnO


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