Synthesis of Cr2O3/TiO2 Nanocomposite and its Application as the Blocking Layer in Solar Cells

ISSN: 2380-2391

Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry

  • Research Article   
  • J Environ Anal Chem 2018, Vol 5(1): 231
  • DOI: 10.4172/2380-2391.1000231

Synthesis of Cr2O3/TiO2 Nanocomposite and its Application as the Blocking Layer in Solar Cells

Fatemeh Talavari1, Alireza Shakeri2 and Hossein Mighani1*
1Department of Chemistry, Golestan University, Gorgan, Iran
2School of Chemistry, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran
*Corresponding Author: Hossein Mighani, Department of Chemistry, Golestan University, Gorgan, Iran, Tel: +981732245964, Email: [email protected]

Received Date: Feb 14, 2018 / Accepted Date: Feb 20, 2018 / Published Date: Feb 23, 2018


In this study, Cr2O3/TiO2 nanoparticles were synthesized using sol-gel method. TiO2 as one of the most important semiconductor materials with a variety of applications in many fields including photocatalysis and solar cells combined with Cr2O3 as a mineral material and one of the basic oxides used as pigments to improve properties such as mechanical strength, thermal stability form the Cr2O3/TiO2 nanocomposite showing attractive applications in photocatalysis and solar cells. To this end, its application in solar cells has been investigated to testify its performance. The results were promising in the case of solar cell. Cr2O3/TiO2 nanocomposite solution formed a compact layer with low defects and grain boundaries while it was sprayed as blocking layer (TiO2) in superstrate structure CZTS solar cells (Glass/FTO/TiO2/In2S3/CZTS/carbon). Compared to individual TiO2 blocking layer, the asdeposited layer showed better quality and performance. X-Ray was used to confirm synthesized nanoparticles and their morphology was investigated by Field-Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FE-SEM).

Keywords: Solar cells; Nanocomposite; Nanoparticles; Blocking layer


Semiconducting materials are of high interest for their attractive applications in fields of photocatalysis and solar cells [1]. CZTS solar cells are promising alternatives to the conventional high cost silicon solar cells and their counterparts CIGS solar cells [2]. CZTS solar cells are made of Copper, Zinc, Tin and Sulfide/Selenide as their raw materials which are abundant elements in earth crust with lower cost compared to CIGS solar cell’s raw materials of Indium and Gallium [3]. Thus, it is highly desirable to improve the efficiency of low cost CZTS solar cells. One way to improve the efficiency of such solar cells is modifying different layers including the blocking layer made of up TiO2 which acts as an electron transporter and as a barrier to prevent the cell from getting short-circuited [4,5]. Having large grain boundaries and many defects which is the main causes of electron hole recombination, makes TiO2 an undesired choice for having an efficient solar cell for the future market and opens the way for a quest to find new materials as the alternatives although TiO2 is the most widely used material in solar cells including provskite and other thin film solar cells [6]. There has been many works done by the others in the literature which describes the best the effect of a high quality blocking layer on the performance of solar cells. Among previews works on modification of TiO2 blocking layer, Alexander Agrios reported an improvement in charge transfer by synthesizing a nanocomposite of ZnO/TiO2 used in dye sensitized solar cells which they showed a different application of such nanocomposites as the blocking layer [7]. Other works include synthesis of such nanocomposites by Keisuke Kawata using polymers like polyaniline as the additive material to TiO2 to make it a better electron transporter in dye sensitized solar cells [8]. To best of our knowledge, there hasn’t been any report in the literature about the application of such nanocomposites in inorganic solar cells of CZTS or CIGS. Thin film inorganic semiconductor of Cr2O3 has a wide variety of features including: high thermal stability and mechanical strength with low friction coefficient [9]. Cr2O3 nanoparticles could be prepared in different sizes using different techniques including: sol-gel method [10], gas condensation [11], microwave plasma [12] with a variety of morphologies like thin films [13], porous microspheres [14], nanowires [15], nanotubes [16] and so on. Among all of these synthesis processes and morphologies, only few researches have been doing on the synthesis of round shape Cr2O3 nanoparticles ranging from 5 to 200 nm which has the potential to be used as spraying materials having significant features like high temperature resistance which is very important factor in solar cells as well as corrosion resistance, wear resistance features which are beneficial in other applications [17,18]. Semiconductor TiO2 is a low cost, non-toxic material with a wide range of applications in solar cells [19,20], photocatalyst [21-23], sensors [24,25] etc. which is readily available. Having a band gap of 3.2 eV, TiO2 could be largely used in solar cells and photocatalysts [26]. Among the photocatalyst materials, synthesis of these two nanoparticles as combined materials, a nanocomposite of TiO2/Cr2O3 forms which has different attractive characteristics for solar cell and photocatalytic applications [27].

In this work, we synthesized nanocomposite powder of TiO2/Cr2O3 using sol gel method. Following SEM images, the synthetized powder showed good homogeneity with nanoparticles having an average size of about 35 nm. The as-prepared nanocomposite was used to evaluate its performance in photocatalytic and solar cell applications. To testify its performance in solar cells, we sprayed 4 ml of the solution on Fluorine-doped Tin Oxide (FTO) with water as the solvent at 450°C. The as-deposited layer was shown to be a compact layer with lower defects compared to TiO2 which is always regarded as a layer full of defects effecting charge transfer due to high rate of electron recombination in grain boundaries and defects. To the best of our knowledge, this synthesized nanocomposite shows to be a promising alternative to its counterpart semiconductors with the same applications especially in solar cells with the big issue of having blocking layers with much grain boundaries and defects.



Cr(NO3)2.6H2O with molecular weight 291 g/mol, Ethanol, Acetyl Acetone and Ethylene Glycol (EG), Tetra iso-Propyl Ortho Titanat (TPOT) with chemical formula C12H28O4Ti, density of 0.967 kg/l and MW of 284.66 g/mol were purchased from Merck company.

Synthesis method

According to calculations carried out beforehand, for the preparation of 5 g of the desired nanoparticles, 6.402 g of Cr(NO3)2.6H2O was weighed, then 3 ml Ethanol was added to the container and placed in the ultrasonic water bath for 5 min, then, after adding 3 ml Acetyl acetone it was left in the ultrasonic bath for 10 min, in the third stage, 6.15cc EG was added and ultrasonicated until the complete dissolution of color of Cr(NO3)2.6H2O in the solution. At the end of this phase, the black was changed into aura green. In the end, as the most important step, 8.19 ml TPOT was added to the container and left for 30 min in ultrasonic bath.

In the next step, container was left in the oven at 65°C until it was transformed from gel phase into solid phase. After leaving the oven, the final product was crushed in a mortar and put in a furnace following a temperature program. After leaving the furnace, the green color of final product showed to be the initial sign of Cr2O3/TiO2 nanoparticles synthesized [28].

Characterization and property measurements

XRD patterns to analyze crystal structure of powders were recorded on X-Ray diffractometer (STOE-STADV) using Cu Kα radiation (λ=1.5408). Surface morphology and sizes of products were performed by (FE-SEM).

Fabrication of solar cells

To testify the application prepared nanocomposite, we examined the superstrate CZTS solar cell structure (Figure 1) as an inorganic thin film solar cell, one of the candidates to replace high cost CIGS solar cells. The whole fabrication procedure was done following former works in the literature [29]. A solution of these nanocomposites was prepared using non-toxic solvent of water to assure the safety of spray pyrolysis process following previews works in the literature. The FTO substrate was annealed up to 450°C and the solution was sprayed on the substrate using 4 ml of solution [30]. This was repeated for three times and the quality of the layer was examined by FE-SEM.


Figure 1: Superstrate CZTS structure.

Results and Discussion

All diffraction peaks of Figure 2 can be indexed to those of pure rhombohedral phase Cr2O3 (JCPDS No. 38-1479), and the sharp peaks reveal that the products are well crystalized Cr2O3/TiO2, Cr2O3, TiO2 nanoparticles. By comparing the XRD pattern of nanopowder with XRD patterns of nanoparticles TiO2 and also Cr2O3, the formation of Cr2O3/TiO2 has been confirmed by Table 1.

FWHM β(°) D (nm) Identification product
24.53 0.36 0.00626 22.69 Cr2O3
26.33 0.24 0.004176 34.15 Cr2O3
27.53 0.24 0.0047 34.24 TiO2-rutile
33.61 0.36 0.00626 23.5 Cr2O3
36.13 0.24 0.004176 35.03 Cr2O3
37.12 0.18 0.003132 46.84 New product
39.19 0.24 0.004176 35.28 New product
41.27 0.36 0.00626 23.62 TiO2-rutile
42.91 0.18 0.003132 47.58 New product
44.05 0.24 0.004176 35.83 TiO2-rutile

Table 1: Results of X-Ray spectroscopy.


Figure 2: Powder X-Ray diffraction patterns of Cr2O3/TiO2.

Figure 3 shows the IR spectra of (a) Cr2O3 sphere and (b) Cr2O3/TiO2 composite sphere. The peaks observed at 529.46 cm-1, 589.24 cm-1 and 1602.16 cm-1 confirmed the formation of Cr2O3. Cr2O3/TiO2 showed the peaks at 852.7 cm-1 and 913.18 cm-1. The peaks observed at 3419.99 cm-1 probably represent TiO2.


Figure 3: IR spectra of (a) Cr2O3 sphere (b) Cr2O3/TiO2 composite sphere.

Solar cell application

The morphology of the resulting powder was examined by FE-SEM. The FE-SEM micrograph in Figure 4 shows the morphology of assynthesized Cr2O3/TiO2 nanopowder, revealing uniform spherical shapes and very small particles of nanosize. The calculated average particle size of Cr2O3/TiO2, Cr2O3, TiO2 was 35 nm with a standard deviation of ± 13 nm, and consistent with the aforementioned size calculated by Scherrer´s relation.


Figure 4: FE-SEM top view of Cr2O3/TiO2 nanoparticles: a) 200 nm b) 500 nm c) 1 μm.

Nanocomposite of TiO2/Cr2O3 could be used as a precursor solution in water to be sprayed as the blocking layer in photovoltaic applications [31]. The role of blocking layer is very crucial in solar cells as it acts both as an electron transporter by allying its band gap with the top layers and as a barrier to prevent the solar cell from getting short circuited as the top layers could penetrate through the bottom layers during the deposition process [32]. Having an optimum band gap of 3.2 eV, it is highly desirable to use it as blocking layer. The final deposited layer showed very compact, low defect islands under FESEM with a thickness of 120 nm to be favorable for electron transfer. As shown in Figure 4, this compact layer seems promising to be an alternative to the TiO2 blocking layer as it is obvious that TiO2/Cr2O3 nanocomposite forms a dense blocking layer with lower defects and grain boundaries compared to individual TiO2 deposited layer as shown in Figure 5. To evaluate its performance we made CZTS superstrate solar cells using this compact layer as the blocking layer. The results were promising with an improvement in the efficiencies followed by an enhancement in Jsc and constant Voc. Fill factor decreases as a result of increasing current. The results are shown in Table 2. The J-V curve for the best cell is shown in Figure 6.

Blocking layer Voc (volt) Jsc ( FF (%) Eff (%)
TiO2 0.35 4.65 43 0.7
TiO2/Cr2O3 0.35 9.2 33 1.07

Table 2: A comparison on the effect of two different blocking layers on CZTS solar cells.


Figure 5: FE-SEM images of a) TiO2 sprayed at 450°C b) TiO2/ Cr2O3 nanocomposite sprayed at 450°C.


Figure 6: J-V curve of the best solar cells made with TiO2/Cr2O3 blocking layer.


In this study Cr2O3/TiO2 nanoparticles were investigated with a new technique from sol-gel method by using Cr(NO3)2.6H2O and TPOT synthesized Cr2O3/TiO2 nanopowder, revealed uniform spherical shapes and very small particles. Investigating application of this nanocomposite in solar cells, it reveals that it has a very high potential to be used in different types of solar cells and boost efficiencies to reach better records in this promising field of energy. Although the new blocking layer slightly Improved low efficient superstrate CZTS solar cells, noticing the fact that CZTS solar cells are half efficient compared to provskite solar cells it can be interpreted that using such low defect blocking layer in provskite solar cells with TiO2 blocking layer could improve the efficiencies more than it was shown here.


We are pleased to thank our colleagues Morteza Saadattalab and Maryam Binabaji with their role of consulting us during the project.


Citation: Talavari F, Shakeri A, Mighani H (2018) Synthesis of Cr2O3/TiO2 Nanocomposite and its Application as the Blocking Layer in Solar Cells. J Environ Anal Chem 5: 231. Doi: 10.4172/2380-2391.1000231

Copyright: © 2018 Talavari F, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricteduse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Select your language of interest to view the total content in your interested language

Post Your Comment Citation
Share This Article
Recommended Conferences
  • International Conference on Analytical Chemistry

    August 29-30, 2018 Toronto, Canada

  • Annual Congress on Chemistry

    September 12-13, 2018 Singapore City, Singapore

  • International Conference on EnvironmentalChemistry and Engineering

    September 20-22, 2018 Berlin, Germany

  • International Conference on Mass Spectrometryand Chromatography

    October 8-9, 2018 Dubai, UAE

Article Usage
  • Total views: 454
  • [From(publication date): 0-2018 - Aug 21, 2018]
  • Breakdown by view type
  • HTML page views: 421
  • PDF downloads: 33

Post your comment

captcha   Reload  Can't read the image? click here to refresh