The driving forces and processes associated with the development of phase separation upon thermal annealing are investigated in solution-processed small molecule bulk heterojunction (BHJ) organic solar cells utilizing a diketopyrrolopyrrole-based donor molecule and a fullerene acceptor (PCBM). In-situ thermal annealing X-ray scattering is used to monitor the development of thin film crystallization and phase separation and reveals that the development of blend phase separation strongly correlates with the nucleation of donor crystallites. Additionally, these morphological changes lead to dramatic increases in blend electron mobility and solar cell figures of merit. These results indicate that donor crystallization is the driving force for blend phase separation. It is hypothesized that donor crystallization from an as-cast homogeneous donor:acceptor blend simultaneously produces donor-rich domains, consisting largely of donor crystallites, and acceptor-rich domains, formed from previously mixed regions of the film that have been enriched with acceptor during donor crystallization. Control of donor crystallization in solution-processed small molecule BHJ solar cells employing PCBM is thus emphasized as an important strategy for the engineering of the nanoscale phase separated, bicontinuous morphology necessary for the fabrication of efficient BHJ photovoltaic devices.
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