Versatile Three-Dimensional Virus-Based Template for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells with Improved Electron Transport and Light Harvesting

By genetically encoding affinity for inorganic materials into the capsid proteins of the M13 bacteriophage, the virus can act as a template for the synthesis of nanomaterial composites for use in various device applications. Herein, the M13 bacteriophage is employed to build a multifunctional and three-dimensional scaffold capable of improving both electron collection and light harvesting in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). This has been accomplished by binding gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) to the virus proteins and encapsulating the AuNP–virus complexes in TiO2 to produce a plasmon-enhanced and nanowire (NW)-based photoanode. The NW morphology exhibits an improved electron diffusion length compared to traditional nanoparticle-based DSSCs, and the AuNPs increase the light absorption of the dye-molecules through the phenomenon of localized surface plasmon resonance. Consequently, we report a virus-templated and plasmon-enhanced DSSC with an efficiency of 8.46%, which is achieved through optimizing both the NW morphology and the concentration of AuNPs loaded into the solar cells. In addition, we propose a theoretical model that predicts the experimentally observed trends of plasmon enhancement.