Formation of physical-gel redox electrolytes through self-assembly of discotic liquid crystals: Applications in dye sensitized solar cells

07 Aug 2017

The self-assembly of small molecules into ordered structures is of significant interest in electronic applications due to simpler device fabrication and better performance. Here we present work on the development of self-assembled fibrous networks of thermotropic triphenylene discotic liquid crystals, where 2,3,6,7,10,11-Hexakishexyloxytriphenylene (HAT6) is studied. The formation of interconnected molecular fibres in acetonitrile-based solvents facilitates thermally-reversible physical-gel (non-covalent) preparation, with the HAT6 network providing mechanical support and containment of the solvent. Furthermore, gel formation is also achieved using an acetonitrile-based iodide/tri-iodide redox liquid electrolyte, and the resulting gel mixture is utilised as an electrolyte in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). Our results show that it is indeed possible to achieve in situ gel formation in DSSCs, allowing for easy cell fabrication and electrolyte filling. In addition, the gel phase is found to increase device lifetime by limiting solvent evaporation. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and polarising optical microscopy (POM) are used to study gel formation, and it is identified that the thermally reversible gels are stable up to working temperatures of 40 °C. It is found that DSSCs filled with gel electrolyte exhibit longer electron lifetime in the TiO 2 photo-anode (≈8.4 ms in the liquid electrolyte to ≈11.4 ms in the gel electrolytes), most likely due to electron screening from the electrolyte by HAT6. Current-Voltage (I–V) and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) are used to study the effect of gel formation on conductivity and electrochemical properties, and it is found that confinement of the liquid electrolyte into a gel phase does not significantly reduce ionic conductivity, a problem common with solid-state polymer electrolytes. A 3.8 mM HAT6 gel electrolyte DSSC exhibited a PCE of 6.19% vs. a 5.86% liquid electrolyte reference. Extended device lifetimes studies showed that the gels increase stability of the DSSCs by reducing the rate of solvent evaporation.