Exploring Dye-Sensitized Mesoporous NiO Photocathodes: from Mechanism to Applications

Lei Tian
Abstract & Cover

Increasing attention has been paid on solar energy conversion since the abundant solar energy possesses the potential to solve the problems on energy crisis and climate change. Dye-sensitized mesoporous NiO film was developed as one of the attractive photocathodes to fabricate p-type dye-sensitized solar cells (p-DSCs) and dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthetic cells (p-DSPECs) for electricity and chemical fuels generation, respectively. In this thesis, we designed a well-structured NiO-dye-TiO2 configuration by an atomic layer deposition (ALD) technique, with an organic dye PB6 as the photosensitizer. From kinetic studies of charge separation, ultrafast hole injection (< 200 fs) was observed from the excited state of PB6 dye into the valence band of NiO; dye regeneration (electron injection) was in t1/2 ≤ 500 fs, which is the fastest reported in any DSCs. On the basis of NiO-dye-TiO2 configuration, we successfully fabricated solid-state p-type DSCs (p-ssDSCs). Insertion of an Al2O3 layer was adopted to reduce charge recombination, i.e. NiO-dye-Al2O3-TiO2. Theoretically, such a configuration is possible to maintain efficient charge separation and depressed charge recombination. Based on NiO-dye-Al2O3-TiO2 configuration, the open-circuit voltage was improved to 0.48 V. Replacing electron conductor TiO2 with ZnO, short-circuit current density was increased to 680 μA·cm-2. The photocatalytic current density for H2 evolution was improve to 100 μA·cm-2 with a near unity of Faraday efficiency in p-DSPECs.
However, to further improve the performance of p-DSCs is very challenging. In p-ssDSCs, the limitation was confirmed from the poor electronically connection of the electron conductor (TiO2 or ZnO) inside the NiO-dye films. We further investigated the electronic property of surface states on mesoporous NiO film. We found that the surface sates, not the bulk, on NiO determined the conductivity of the mesoporous NiO films. The dye regeneration in liquid p-DSCs with I-/I3- as redox couples was significantly affected by surface states. A more complete mechanism is suggested to understand a particular hole transport behavior reported in p-DSCs, where hole transport time is independent on light intensity. The independence of charge transport is ascribed to the percolation effect in the hole hopping on the surface states.

Uppsala University
(Uppsala, Sweden)
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