Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) have gained widespread interest because of their potential for low-cost solar energy conversion. Currently, the certified record efficiency of these solar cells is 11.1%, and measurements of their durability and stability suggest lifetimes exceeding 10 years under operational conditions, The DSC is a photoelectrochemical system: a monolayer of sensitizing dye is adsorbed onto a mesoporous TiO2 electrode, and the electrode is sandwiched together with a counter electrode. An electrolyte containing a redox couple fills the gap between the electrodes.
The redox couple is a key component of the DSC. The reduced part of the couple regenerates the photo-oxidized dye. The formed oxidized species diffuses to the counter electrode, where it is reduced. The photovoltage of the device depends on the redox couple because it sets the electrochemical potential at the counter electrode. The redox couple also affects the electrochemical potential of the TiO2 electrode through the recombination kinetics between electrons in TiO2 and oxidized redox species.
This Account focuses on the special properties of the iodide/triiodide (I-/I-3(-)) redox couple in dye-sensitized solar cells. It has been the preferred redox couple since the beginning of DSC development and still yields the most stable and efficient DSCs. Overall, the iodide/triiodide couple has good solubility, does not absorb too much light, has a suitable redox potential, and provides rapid dye regeneration. But what distinguishes I-/I-3(-) from most redox mediators is the very slow recombination kinetics between electrons in TiO2 and the oxidized part of the redox couple, triiodide. Certain dyes adsorbed at TiO2 catalyze this recombination reaction, presumably by binding iodine or triiodide.
The standard potential of the iodide/triiodide redox couple is 0.35 V (versus the normal hydrogen electrode, NHE), and the oxidation potential of the standard DSC-sensitizer (Ru(dcbpy)(2)(NCS)(2)) is 1.1 V. The driving force for reduction of oxidized dye is therefore as large as 0.75 V. This process leads to the largest internal potential loss in DSC devices. We expect that overall efficiencies above 15% might be achieved if half of this internal potential loss could be gained.
The regeneration of oxidized dye with iodide leads to the formation of the diiodide radical (I-2(-center dot)). The redox potential of the I-2(-center dot)/I- couple must therefore be considered when determining the actual driving force for dye regeneration. The formed I-2(-center dot) disproportionates to I-3(-) and I-, which leads to a large loss in potential energy.
2009. Vol. 42, no 11, 1819-1826 p.