The elementary charge and excitation energy transfer steps in a novel symmetric donor–acceptor–donor triad first described in Roland et al. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2012, 14, 273, consisting of a central perylenediimide moiety as a potential electron acceptor and two identical electron rich bithiophene compounds, have been investigated using quantum chemical methodology. These elementary processes determine the applicability of such systems in photovoltaic devices. The molecular structure, excited states and the photo-physical properties are investigated using smaller model systems and including solvation effects. The donor and acceptor π-systems are separated by an ethyl bridge such that the molecular orbitals are either located on the donor or acceptor moiety making the identification of locally excited versus charge transfer states straightforward. Using excited state geometry optimizations, the mechanism of photo-initiated charge separation could be identified. Geometry relaxation in the excited donor state leads to a near-degeneracy with the locally excited acceptor state, entailing strong excitonic coupling and resonance energy transfer. This energy transfer process is driven by planarization and bond length alternation of the donor molecule. Geometry relaxation of the locally excited acceptor state in turn reveals a crossing with the energetically lowest charge transfer excited state. The energetic position of the latter depends in a sensitive fashion on the solvent. This provides an explanation of the sequential process observed in the experiment, favoring ultrafast (∼130 fs) formation of the excited acceptor state followed by slower (∼3 ps scale) formation of the charge separated state.
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