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Microcrystalline silicon thin film deposited by RF-PECVD and integrated in a tandem structure is a promising material for low cost photovoltaic solar cells compared to solar cells based on crystalline silicon. However, in order to allow a cost-effective mass production of solar cells based on this material, deposition processes should fulfill several conditions such as high deposition rate, good uniformity over large area and efficient gas utilization. In this work, it is shown that the atomic hydrogen density can be high enough to form microcrystalline thin films even from a pure silane RF discharge and that the pure silane regime is more efficient in terms of gas utilization. In situ Fourier transform infrared absorption and ex situ Raman spectroscopy measurements have been used to determine the fraction of dissociated silane in the discharge and the crystallinity of the deposited layers. Results have shown that microcrystalline silicon can be deposited uniformly on a large area substrate with a deposition rate of more than 10 Å / s with a low powder formation and an input power density of 0.28 W cm- 2 from a pure silane discharge. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.