Modeling charge transport in organic photovoltaic materials

Acc Chem Res. 2009 Nov 17;42(11):1768-78. doi: 10.1021/ar900119f.


The performance of an organic photovoltaic cell depends critically on the mobility of charge carriers within the constituent molecular semiconductor materials. However, a complex combination of phenomena that span a range of length and time scales control charge transport in disordered organic semiconductors. As a result, it is difficult to rationalize charge transport properties in terms of material parameters. Until now, efforts to improve charge mobilities in molecular semiconductors have proceeded largely by trial and error rather than through systematic design. However, recent developments have enabled the first predictive simulation studies of charge transport in disordered organic semiconductors. This Account describes a set of computational methods, specifically molecular modeling methods, to simulate molecular packing, quantum chemical calculations of charge transfer rates, and Monte Carlo simulations of charge transport. Using case studies, we show how this combination of methods can reproduce experimental mobilities with few or no fitting parameters. Although currently applied to material systems of high symmetry or well-defined structure, further developments of this approach could address more complex systems such anisotropic or multicomponent solids and conjugated polymers. Even with an approximate treatment of packing disorder, these computational methods simulate experimental mobilities within an order of magnitude at high electric fields. We can both reproduce the relative values of electron and hole mobility in a conjugated small molecule and rationalize those values based on the symmetry of frontier orbitals. Using fully atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of molecular packing, we can quantitatively replicate vertical charge transport along stacks of discotic liquid crystals which vary only in the structure of their side chains. We can reproduce the trends in mobility with molecular weight for self-organizing polymers using a cheap, coarse-grained structural simulation method. Finally, we quantitatively reproduce the field-effect mobility in disordered C60 films. On the basis of these results, we conclude that all of the necessary building blocks are in place for the predictive simulation of charge transport in macromolecular electronic materials and that such methods can be used as a tool toward the future rational design of functional organic electronic materials.