Nature, Vol.573, No.7775, 519-+, 2019
Multivalent anions as universal latent electron donors
Electrodes with low work functions are required to efficiently inject electrons into semiconductor devices. However, when the work function drops below about 4 electronvolts, the electrode suffers oxidation in air, which prevents its fabrication in ambient conditions. Here we show that multivalent anions such as oxalate, carbonate and sulfite can act as powerful latent electron donors when dispersed as small ion clusters in a matrix, while retaining their ability to be processed in solution in ambient conditions. The anions in these clusters can even n-dope the semiconductor core of p-conjugated polyelectrolytes that have low electron affinities, through a ground-state doping mechanism that is further amplified by a hole-sensitized or photosensitized mechanism in the device. A theoretical analysis of donor levels of these anions reveals that they are favourably upshifted from ionic lattices by a decrease in the Coulomb stabilization of small ion clusters, and by irreversibility effects. We attain an ultralow effective work function of 2.4 electronvolts with the polyfluorene core. We realize high-performance, solution-processed, white-light-emitting diodes and organic solar cells using polymer electron injection layers with these universal anion donors, demonstrating a general approach to chemically designed and ambient-processed Ohmic electron contacts for semiconductor devices.