Effective passivation of Ag nanowire-based flexible transparent conducting electrode by TiO2 nanoshell
© The Author(s) 2016
Received: 14 June 2016
Accepted: 21 July 2016
Published: 20 August 2016
Silver nanowire-based flexible transparent electrodes have critical problem, in spite of their excellent electrical and optical properties, that the electrical conductance and transparency degrade within several days in air because of oxidation of silver. To prevent the degradation of the silver nanowire, we encapsulated Ag-NWs with thin TiO2 barrier. Bar-coated silver nanowires on flexible polymer substrate were laminated at 120 °C, followed by atomic layer deposition of TiO2 nanoshell. With 20 nm of TiO2 nanoshells on silver nanowires, the transparent electrode keeps its electrical and optical properties over 2 months. Moreover, the TiO2-encapsulated silver nanowire-based transparent electrodes exhibit excellent bending durability.
Worldwide demand on wearable or flexible optoelectronic devices has promoted research on various flexible display and power source devices, such as flexible light emitting diodes and flexible solar cells [1, 2]. For actual flexible optoelectronic devices, it is essential to develop flexible transparent conducting electrodes (TCE) which exhibit sufficient transparency in visible light and electrical conductance under bending. Most of the existing flat, rigid optoelectronic devices have been built on transparent conducting oxide (TCO)-based TCEs, representatively tin-doped indium oxide (Sn:In2O3, ITO) which can be designed to have a high transmittance >85 % and low sheet resistance <8 Ω/sq due to its large band gap energy (~4 eV) and low electrical resistivity (~10−4 Ω cm) . However, brittleness of oxide ceramics is not suitable for application to the flexible devices as flexible TCE.
As alternative to the rigid TCOs, various flexible TCEs have been studied using carbon materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, conducting polymers such as poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS), or metal nanowires (NWs) such as Ag-NWs and Cu-NWs [4, 5]. Many of the recently developed flexible TCEs have several problems such as lacking junctions between the conducting materials or low stability under ambient circumstance , where as they have comparable transmittances and sheet resistances with TCOs. Among various TCEs, Ag-NWs have been intensively studied due to its excellent conductivity and flexibility [7, 8]. Ag-NWs-based TCEs usually have random networks which can be achieved via inexpensive solution processes such as bar coating, spin coating, spray coating and drop casting [9–11]. In this random network, conductivity can be increased by enhancing contacts at the junctions of Ag-NWs, via laminating for instance . However, Ag-NWs have the critical stability issue that is oxidation of Ag to Ag2O3 in air. Such an oxidation significantly affects long-term sheet resistance of the TCE . For this reason, there have been various attempts to prevent oxidation of Ag-NWs. One of the most effective methods for anti-oxidation is formation of passivation layers on Ag-NWs, such as graphene/Ag or ZnO/Ag [13, 14].
In this study, we report an effective passivation of solution processed Ag-NWs-based flexible TCEs, by formation of stable TiO2 nanoshells on the surface of the TCEs, as a barrier to oxidation of the Ag-NWs. To fabricate control TCEs, wet-chemically synthesized Ag-NWs were bar-coated on a polymer substrate followed by laminating. We investigated sheet resistance and transmittance of the control TCEs with varying the number of NW coating, to obtain a high performance TCE. Some of the identically processed TCEs were subjected to deposition of the TiO2 nanoshell via atomic layer deposition (ALD). Oxidation of the Ag-NWs with and without the TiO2 nanoshell was compared after storage in air during 2 months. Effect of the TiO2 barrier on the sheet resistance and the transmittance was also studied with varying the thickness of the TiO2 nanoshell. Finally, we tested bending durability of the Ag-NWs-based TCEs, and performance of a solid-state dye-sensitized solar cell (ssDSSC) which is fabricated on the Ag-NWs-based TCEs, up to 100 cycles of bending test with 30 mm of bending radius.
2 Results and discussion
We fabricated a highly stable and flexible Ag-NW-based TCE by using TiO2 nanoshell which effectively passivates Ag from oxidation in ambient air. The Ag-NWs were synthesized via polyol method, and bar-coated on a flexible PET substrate, followed by laminating and ALD of TiO2 layer. The 20 nm-thick TiO2 barrier perfectly passivates the oxidation of Ag-NWs, showing less than 0.01 % of sheet resistance change during 2 months of aging in ambient air, whereas the bare Ag-NW TCE shows >150 % of sheet resistance increase under the identical condition. The 20 nm-thick TiO2-coated Ag-NW TCE exhibits a high transmittance >75 % at λ ~ 550 nm, a low sheet resistance ~80 Ω/sq, and an excellent bending durability, i.e. constant sheet resistance after 30 cycles of bending test (under 30 mm of bending radius). Furthermore, we demonstrate the potential of our passivated Ag-NW TCE for real application to flexible devices such as ssDSSC.
4 Experimental details
4.1 Fabrication of Ag-NW TCE
Ag-NWs were synthesized as follows. 0.5 mL PtCl2 solution (1.5 × 10−4 M) which was added into 5 mL ethylene glycol solvent, with stirring at 170 °C. After 4 min of stirring, 2.5 mL AgNO3 solution (0.12 M) and 5 mL polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) solution (0.36 M) was added dropwise with maintaining the reaction temperature fixed at 170 °C. After slow cooling this mixture, the residual PVP was eliminated by centrifuging (6000 rpm and 30 min duration). Then this sediment was redispersed in methanol. The average dimension of the synthesized Ag-NWs was 10 μm in length and 80 nm in diameter.
The Ag-NW solution was coated onto polyethylene terephthalate (PET) films uniformly using a Teflon rod and repeated this process 4–6 times after the Ag-NW films were dried under the IR lamp. Then, the Ag-NW films were laminated under pressure of 200 kg/cm2 at 120 °C.
To retard the oxidation of Ag-NW, TiO2 barrier was uniformly deposited by an atomic layer deposition (ALD) system. Titanium (IV) isopropoxide (TTIP, UPChem) was used as the Ti precursor and H2O was employed as the oxygen source. High purity Ar was used a purge gas and to carry the TTIP. Each cycle of deposition was comprised of 10 s of pre-purging, 3 s of TTIP source injection, and 1 s of H2O flow.
4.2 Fabrication of flexible ssDSSC
TiO2 paste (Dyesol 18 NR-T) was coated on the fabricated Ag-NW TCE by doctor blade and dried at 80 °C in ambient air, followed by atmospheric pressure plasma treatment  for 30 min. The fabricated film was soaked in Z907 dye at 50 °C for 2 h and rinsed with ethanol. A hole transport layer (80 mg of 2,2′,7,7′-tetrakis(N,N-di-p-methoxyphenyl-amine)-9,9′-spirobifluorene (spiro-MeOTAD), 8.4 μL of 4-tert-butylpyridine, and 51.6 μL of bis (trifluoro-methane) sulfonimide lithium salt (Li-TFSI) solution (154 mg/mL in acetonitrile), the whole mixture was dissolved in 1 mL chlorobenzene) was formed after spin coating at 2000 rpm for 45 s. Au electrode was deposited by thermal evaporation under 10−6 bar with a shadow mask. J-V curves of the fabricated ssDSSC were measured using a potentiostat under the simulated sun light (AM 1.5, 100 mW/cm2).
HSJ and SL conceived the project, DL synthesized materials, DGL performed materials characterization and set up the bending test system, JSY fabricated the devices, and DGL, SL, and HSJ wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This work was supported by National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grants funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (MSIP) of Korea under contract no. NRF-2014R1A2A2A01007722, no. NRF-2015M1A2A2056827 and no. NRF-2016R1C1B2013087.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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