Singlet exciton fission is the process in conjugated organic molecules bywhich a photogenerated singlet exciton couples to a nearby chromophore in the ground state, creating a pair of triplet excitons. Researchers first reported this phenomenon in the 1960s, an event that sparked further studies in the following decade. These investigations used fluorescence spectroscopy to establish that exciton fission occurred in single crystals of several acenes. However, research interest has been recently rekindled by the possibility that singlet fission could be used as a carrier multiplication technique to enhance the efficiency of photovoltaic cells. The most successful architecture to-date involves sensitizing a red-absorbing photoactive layer with a blue-absorbing material that undergoes fission, thereby generating additional photocurrent from higher-energy photons. The quest for improved solar cells has spurred a drive to better understand the fission process, which has received timely aid from modern techniques for time-resolved spectroscopy, quantum chemistry, and small-molecule device fabrication. However, the consensus interpretation of the initial studies using ultrafast transient absorption spectroscopy was that exciton fission was suppressed in polycrystalline thin films of pentacene, a material that would be otherwise expected to be an ideal model system, as well as a viable candidate for fission-sensitized photovoltaic devices.
In this Account, we review the results of our recent transient absorption and device-based studies of polycrystalline pentacene. We address the controversy surrounding the assignment of spectroscopic features in transient absorption data, and illustrate how a consistent interpretation is possible. This work underpins our conclusion that singlet fission in pentacene is extraordinarily rapid (80 fs) and is thus the dominant decay channel for the photoexcited singlet exciton. Further, we discuss our demonstration that triplet excitons generated via singlet fission in pentacene can be dissociated at an interface with a suitable electron acceptor, such as fullerenes and infrared-absorbing inorganic semiconducting quantum dots. We highlight our recent reports of a pentacene/PbSe hybrid solar cell with a power conversion efficiency of 4.7% and of a pentacene/PbSe/amorphous silicon photovoltaic device. Although substantive challenges remain, both to better our understanding of the mechanism of singlet exciton fission and to optimize device performance, this realization of a solar cell where photocurrent is simultaneously contributed from a blue-absorbing fission-capable material and an infrared-absorbing conventional cell is an important step towards a dual-bandgap, single-junction, fission-enhanced photovoltaic device, which could one day surpass the Shockley–Queisser limit.