Series of Quinoidal Methyl-Dioxocyano-Pyridine Based π‑Extended Narrow-Bandgap Oligomers for Solution-Processed Small-Molecule Organic Solar Cells

Small molecules with narrow bandgap of <1.6 eV can harvest the visible and near-infrared solar photons. In this Article, we report a new method to achieve narrow bandgap small molecule donors by using electron-deficient quinoidal methyl-dioxocyano-pyridine (MDP) to induce possible quinoidal resonance structure along the conjugated A−π–D−π–A backbone. Practically, two MDP moieties are covalently linked onto an electron-rich benzodithiophene (BDT) through the oligothiophene (0T–5T) π-bridge. The affording small molecules, namely, nTBM, exhibit broad and strong absorption bands covering the visible and near-infrared region from 400 to 870 nm. The estimated optical bandgap is down to 1.4 eV. The narrow bandgap is associated with the low-lying lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO) energy level (about −3.7 eV) and the high-lying highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) energy level (around −5.1 eV). Density-functional theory calculations reveal that the HOMO and LUMO energy levels, with the increase of the size of the oligothiophene bridge, become localizations in different moieties, i.e., the central electron-donating and the terminal electron-withdrawing units, respectively, which provides necessary driving force for the delocalization of the excited electrons and formation of the quinoidal resonance structure. The quinoidal structure enhances the photoinduced intramolecular charge-transfer, leading to the absorbance enhancement of the low-energy absorption band. With the increase of the size of the oligothiophene from 0 to 5 thienyl units and the change of the direction of the alkyl chains on the bridged thiophene from “outward” to “inward”, the crystalline nature, fibril length, and phase size of the blend films as well as the cell performance are all fine-tuned, also. With the “inward” alkyl chains, the terthiophene bridged molecule is amorphous, while the pentathiophene bridged one is relatively crystalline. Both molecules form nanoscale interpenetrating networks with a phase size of 15–20 nm when blended with PC71BM, showing the higher hole mobility and promising electric performance.