• Modification of PCBM;
  • fullerene derivatives;
  • poly(3-hexylthiophene);
  • bulk heterojunction solar cells;
  • photovoltaics


[6,6]-phenyl-C-61-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) and poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) are the most widely used acceptor and donor materials, respectively, in polymer solar cells (PSCs). However, the low LUMO (lowest unoccupied molecular orbital) energy level of PCBM limits the open circuit voltage (Voc) of the PSCs based on P3HT. Herein a simple, low-cost and effective approach of modifying PCBM and improving its absorption is reported which can be extended to all fullerene derivatives with an ester structure. In particular, PCBM is hydrolyzed to carboxylic acid and then converted to the corresponding carbonyl chloride. The latter is condensed with 4-nitro-4’-hydroxy-α-cyanostilbene to afford the modified fullerene F. It is more soluble than PCBM in common organic solvents due to the increase of the organic moiety. Both solutions and thin films of F show stronger absorption than PCBM in the range of 250–900 nm. The electrochemical properties and electronic energy levels of F and PCBM are measured by cyclic voltammetry. The LUMO energy level of F is 0.25 eV higher than that of PCBM. The PSCs based on P3HT with F as an acceptor shows a higher Voc of 0.86 V and a short circuit current (Jsc) of 8.5 mA cm−2, resulting in a power conversion efficiency (PCE) of 4.23%, while the PSC based on P3HT:PCBM shows a PCE of about 2.93% under the same conditions. The results indicate that the modified PCBM, i.e., F, is an excellent acceptor for PSC based on bulk heterojunction active layers. A maximum overall PCE of 5.25% is achieved with the PSC based on the P3HT:F blend deposited from a mixture of solvents (chloroform/acetone) and subsequent thermal annealing at 120 °C.