HiPIMS was used to fabricate ITO-free, silver-dopped DMD nanocomposite structures that are transparent-conductive and electrochromic.
The DMD structures are composed of only 3 layers: (Ag-doped WO3)/(Ag)/(WO3).
The nano-composite DMD structures showed favorable electrochromic characteristics.
The mechanisms of improvement in the EC performance of such DMD structures underpinned by surface plasmon resonance are elucidated.
The HiPIMS technology holds great potential for the manufacturing of next-generation DMD nanocomposite coatings applied in EC devices.
Nanocomposites of dielectric/metal/dielectric (DMD) materials that are both optically transparent and electrically conductive are of great interest for an array of modern optoelectronic applications, including electrochromic and energy storage devices. Here we report for the first time the creation of ITO-free DMD nanocomposite structures that are composed of only three layers: (Ag-doped WO3)/(Ag)/(WO3). We employed high power impulse magnetron sputtering (HiPIMS) as a new technology to deposit the internal WO3 layer and the external Ag/WO3 nanocomposite. High rates of silver ionization in the HiPIMS process and energetic arrival of silver ions on the negatively biased DMD structure enabled their penetration into the external tungsten oxide layer, forming a nanocomposite structure in a single-step process. We provided evidence that this unique structure pushes the performance of transparent-conductive DMD materials beyond their intrinsic limits. To optimize the surface plasmon resonance effect and thus the electrochromic performance of the structures, we changed the size of silver nanoclusters through vacuum post-annealing in the same sputtering chamber at varied temperatures. The optimized Ag-WO3/Ag/WO3 structure was transparent (average transmittance = 75.89 ± 0.05% in the wavelength range of 300–700 nm) and electrically conductive (sheet resistance = 23.6 ± 0.8 Ω/□). Moreover, it showed favorable electrochromic characteristics with high coloration efficiency (32.1 cm2 C−1), fast switching speed, and excellent long-term stability for at least 2000 cycles. The mechanisms of improvement in the electrochromic performance of such bifunctional structures underpinned by surface plasmon resonance, as modulated by the size and average distance of silver nanoclusters, are elucidated. The versatile new approach using HiPIMS for the fabrication of transparent-conductive nanocomposite coatings on ITO-free substrates holds great potential to manufacture next-generation optoelectronic materials such as electrochromic devices.
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