High efficiency dye-sensitized solar cells exploiting sponge-like ZnO nanostructures
Sponge-like nanostructured ZnO layers were successfully employed as photoanodes for the fabrication of highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cells. The sponge-like ZnO layers were obtained by room temperature radio-frequency magnetron sputtering deposition of metallic zinc, followed by thermal oxidation treatment in an ambient atmosphere. The porous films show a 3D branched nanomorphology, with a feature similar to natural coral. The morphological and optical properties of these layers were studied through field emission scanning electron microscopy, specific surface area measurements, ultraviolet-visible transmittance and absorption spectroscopy. The sponge-like ZnO film presents a high density of branches, with a relatively high specific surface area value, and fine optical transmittance. The morphology of the porous structure provides a high number of adsorption sites for the anchoring of sensitizer molecules, making it suitable for the fabrication of ZnO-based photoanodes for dye-sensitized solar cells. The light harvesting performance of the sensitized semiconductor was evaluated by current density vs. voltage measurements, incident photon-to-electron conversion efficiency, open circuit voltage decay and impedance spectroscopy. The modelling of the electrical characteristics evidences a higher electron lifetime and a longer charge diffusion length, if compared to standard TiO2 nanoparticle based photoanodes. For ZnO films with a thickness up to 18 [small mu ]m, a photoconversion efficiency as high as 6.67% and a maximum value of the incident photon-to-electron collection efficiency equal to 87% at 530 nm were demonstrated.