Epitaxial Dimers and Auger-Assisted De-Trapping in PbS Quantum Dot Solids

Electronic trap states limit the overall power conversion efficiency of quantum dot (QD) solar cells by inhibiting charge carrier transport and reducing the open-circuit voltage. Here, we explore the dynamic interaction of charge carriers between band edge states and sub-band trap states using broadband transient absorption spectroscopy. In monodisperse arrays of 4-5 nm diameter PbS QDs, we observe an optically active trap state ~100-200 meV below the band edge that occurs at a frequency of 1 in ~2500 QDs. Uncoupled QD solids with oleic acid ligands show trap-to-ground-state recombination that resembles Auger recombination. In electronically coupled QD solids, we observe entropically-driven uphill thermalization of trapped charge carriers from the trap state to the band edge via two distinct mechanisms: Auger-assisted charge transfer (~35 ps) and thermally activated hopping (~500 ps). Photophysical characterization combined with atomistic simulations and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy suggest that these states arise from epitaxially fused pairs of QDs – rather than electron or hole traps at the QD surface – offering new strategies for improving the efficiency of QD solar cells.