Position-locking of volatile reaction products by atmosphere and capping layers slows down photodecomposition of methylammonium lead triiodide perovskite†
The remarkable progress of metal halide perovskites in photovoltaics has led to the power conversion efficiency approaching 26%. However, practical applications of perovskite-based solar cells are challenged by the stability issues, of which the most critical one is photo-induced degradation. Bare CH3NH3PbI3 perovskite films are known to decompose rapidly, with methylammonium and iodine as volatile species and residual solid PbI2 and metallic Pb, under vacuum under white light illumination, on the timescale of minutes. We find, in agreement with previous work, that the degradation is non-uniform and proceeds predominantly from the surface, and that illumination under N2 and ambient air (relative humidity 20%) does not induce substantial degradation even after several hours. Yet, in all cases the release of iodine from the perovskite surface is directly identified by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. This goes in hand with a loss of organic cations and the formation of metallic Pb. When CH3NH3PbI3 films are covered with a few nm thick organic capping layer, either charge selective or non-selective, the rapid photodecomposition process under ultrahigh vacuum is reduced by more than one order of magnitude, and becomes similar in timescale to that under N2 or air. We conclude that the light-induced decomposition reaction of CH3NH3PbI3, leading to volatile methylammonium and iodine, is largely reversible as long as these products are restrained from leaving the surface. This is readily achieved by ambient atmospheric pressure, as well as a thin organic capping layer even under ultrahigh vacuum. In addition to explaining the impact of gas pressure on the stability of this perovskite, our results indicate that covalently “locking” the position of perovskite components at the surface or an interface should enhance the overall photostability.