Semiconducting nanomaterials such as single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) and nanocrystals (NCs) exhibit unique size-dependent quantum properties. They have therefore attracted considerable attention from the viewpoints of fundamental physics and functional device applications. SWCNTs and NCs also provide an excellent new stage for experimental studies of many-body effects of electrons and excitons on optical processes in nanomaterials. In this Account, we discuss multiple exciton generation and recombination in SWCNTs and NCs for next-generation photovoltaics.
Strongly correlated ensembles of conduction-band electrons and valence-band holes in semiconductors are complex quantum systems that exhibit unique optical phenomena. In bulk crystals, the carrier recombination dynamics can be described by a simple model, which includes the nonradiative single-carrier trapping rate, the radiative two-carrier recombination rate, and the nonradiative three-carrier Auger recombination rate. The nonradiative Auger recombination rate determines the carrier recombination dynamics at high carrier density and depends on the spatial localization of carriers in two-dimensional quantum wells. The Auger recombination and multiple exciton generation rates can be advantageously manipulated by nanomaterials with designated energy structures. In addition, SWCNTs and NCs show quantized recombination dynamics of multiple excitons and carriers. In one-dimensional SWCNTs, excitons have large binding energies and are very stable at room temperature. The extremely rapid Auger recombination between excitons determines the photoluminescence (PL) intensity, the PL linewidth, and the PL lifetime. SWCNTs can undergo multiple exciton generation, while strong exciton–exciton interactions and complicated exciton structures affect the quantized Auger rate and the multiple exciton generation efficiency. Interestingly, in zero-dimensional NC quantum dots, quantized Auger recombination causes unique optical phenomena. The breakdown of the k-conversion rule and strong Coulomb interactions between carriers in NCs enhance Auger recombination rate and decrease the energy threshold for multiple exciton generation. We discuss this impact of the k-conservation rule on two-carrier radiative recombination and the three-carrier Auger recombination processes in indirect-gap semiconductor Si NCs. In NCs and SWCNTs, multiple exciton generation competes with Auger recombination, surface trapping of excitons, and cooling of hot electrons or excitons. In addition, we explore heterostructured NCs and impurity-doped NCs in the context of the optimization of charge carrier extraction from excitons in NCs.