Light-trapping in polymer solar cells by processing with nanostructured diatomaceous earth

Lyndsey McMillon-Brown, Marina Mariano, Yun Hui L. Lin, Jinyang Li, Sara M. Hashmi, Andrey Semichaevsky, Barry P. Rand, André D. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We demonstrate the use of fossilized diatoms (diatomaceous earth) as light traps in regioregular poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) and fullerene derivative [6,6]-phenyl-C60-butyric acid methyl ester (PCBM) solar cells. Diatoms, the most common type of phytoplankton found in nature, are optimized for light absorption through millions of years of adaptive evolution. They are also an earth-abundant source of silica that can be incorporated into polymer solar cells without the need for complicated processing. Here we establish protocols dispersing the diatomaceous earth throughout the P3HT:PCBM active layer with characterization by optical and current-voltage measurements. We show that through the addition of diatomaceous earth, we can achieve the same power conversion efficiencies as standard thickness cells while using 36% thinner active layers. We find that adding the diatomaceous earth acts as a scattering center and textures the silver back contact, contributing to increases in the optical path length within devices. Results from this study open up pathways for incorporating hierarchical materials from nature into energy conversion devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)422-427
Number of pages6
JournalOrganic Electronics
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Biomimicry
  • Diatom frustules
  • Light trapping
  • Nanophotonics
  • Polymer solar cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • General Chemistry
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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