Significant Improvement of Semiconducting Performance of the Diketopyrrolopyrrole–Quaterthiophene Conjugated Polymer through Side-Chain Engineering via Hydrogen-Bonding

Three diketopyrrolopyrrole (DPP)–quaterthiophene conjugated polymers, pDPP4T-1, pDPP4T-2, and pDPP4T-3, in which the molar ratios of the urea-containing alkyl chains vs branching alkyl chains are 1:30, 1:20, and 1:10, respectively, were prepared and investigated. In comparison with pDPP4T without urea groups in the alkyl side chains and pDPP4T-A, pDPP4T-B, and pDPP4T-C containing both linear and branched alkyl chains, thin films of pDPP4T-1, pDPP4T-2, and pDPP4T-3 exhibit higher hole mobilities; thin-film mobility increases in the order pDPP4T-1 < pDPP4T-2 < pDPP4T-3, and hole mobility of a thin film of pDPP4T-3 can reach 13.1 cm2 V–1 s–1 after thermal annealing at just 100 °C. The incorporation of urea groups in the alkyl side chains also has an interesting effect on the photovoltaic performances of DPP–quaterthiophene conjugated polymers after blending with PC71BM. Blended thin films of pDPP4T-1:PC71BM, pDPP4T-2:PC71BM, and pDPP4T-3:PC71BM exhibit higher power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) than pDPP4T:PC71BM, pDPP4T-A:PC71BM, pDPP4T-B:PC71BM, and pDPP4T-C:PC71BM. The PCE of pDPP4T-1:PC71BM reaches 6.8%. Thin films of pDPP4T-1, pDPP4T-2, and pDPP4T-3 and corresponding thin films with PC71BM were characterized with AFM, GIXRD, and STEM. The results reveal that the lamellar packing order of the alkyl chains is obviously enhanced for thin films of pDPP4T-1, pDPP4T-2, and pDPP4T-3; after thermal annealing, slight inter-chain π–π stacking emerges for pDPP4T-2 and pDPP4T-3. Blends of pDPP4T-1, pDPP4T-2, and pDPP4T-3 with PC71BM show a more pronounced micro-phase separation. These observations suggest that the presence of urea groups may further facilitate the assemblies of these conjugated polymers into nanofibers and ordered aggregation of PC71BM.