Certain organic materials can generate more than one electron-hole pair per absorbed photon, a property that could revolutionize the prospects for solar energy. This process, called singlet fission, is one possible “exciton multiplication” scheme that could be useful in a variety of photovoltaic device designs from dye-sensitized solar cells to solar cell bilayers to bulk heterojunctions. For such applications to be possible, however, singlet fission must occur with near perfect efficiency in compounds that also have other requisite properties such as strong visible light absorption and photostability. Many recent investigations of singlet fission have focused on crystalline polyacenes, which have been known for some time to undergo singlet fission. While these materials have promise, limitations in stability, cost, and performance may hinder practical application of polyacene solar cells, while their complex photophysics may limit our fundamental understanding of singlet fission in crystalline polyacenes.
In this Account, we describe rationally designed singlet fission chromophores whose excited state dynamics should be fairly simple and whose coupling can be well controlled through the formation of covalent dimers, aggregates, or polycrystalline films. In principle, investigations of these chromophores should provide the clearest connection to theoretical concepts explaining how an excited state evolves from a singlet (S1) into two triplets (TT). Realizing the promise of efficient singlet fission rests with two tasks: (i) producing an ideal molecular energy level structure and (ii) inducing the correct type and strength of chromophore coupling. In this Account, we offer theoretical guidance for achieving (i) and consider more extensively recent results aimed at (ii).
For (i), theoretical guidance suggests that, in addition to alternant hydrocarbons like tetracene and pentacene, biradicals (i.e., molecules with two independent radical centers) may also be used as the basis for designing chromophores with low-lying triplet states such that the energy relationship 2E(T1) ≤ E(S1) is satisfied. Although molecules that do not fulfill this condition can also exhibit singlet fission from a higher lying or vibrationally excited singlet state, fast relaxation processes will likely reduce the singlet fission yield and complicate determination of the singlet fission mechanism.
For (ii), once an appropriate chromophore has been chosen, the task of coupling two or more of them together must be done carefully. We discuss three pathways by which a dimer could undergo singlet fission: (1) A direct route in which slipped cofacial stacking is favorable under certain conditions. Cofacial stacking is common in molecular crystals, and it is likely not a coincidence that recent reports of efficient singlet fission involve slipped-stacked molecules in polycrystalline thin films. (2) A mediated route in which S1 interacts with (TT) through a virtual radical cation/anion state, which may be important in some situations. (3) A two-step route (i.e., through a real charge transfer intermediate) which others have suggested theoretically. We present data on 1,3-diphenylisobenzofuran (DPIBF) dimers that are consistent with this pathway.
Finally, we review potential solar photoconversion efficiency gains utilizing singlet fission in several contexts.