Optical Layers for Thin-film Silicon Solar Cells

In this work we develop and analyze optical layers for use in Micromorph solar cells, a tandem configuration with an amorphous silicon top cell and a microcrystalline silicon bottom cell. The morphology of the front electrode has a decisive role in maximizing the efficiency of a solar cell. To reach a better understanding of the requirements for the front electrode surface, we present a wide range of morphologies that can be obtained with as-grown rough zinc oxide (ZnO) and post-deposition argon plasma surface treatments. We correlate the morphological parameters to light scattering in transmission and reflection, and identify the inclination angles of ZnO pyramids as the most pertinent parameter for thin-film silicon solar cells. We show that there are no reflection losses at the interface between as-grown rough ZnO and silicon, and we quantify the reflection losses for smoother interfaces. With titanium dioxide, produced by reactive magnetron sputtering, we demonstrate that for flat interfaces reflection losses of up to 7.4% can be canceled at 550 nm wavelength. We show that in microcrystalline silicon cells p-type silicon sub-oxide (SiOx) can also be used to reduce reflection losses, and at the same time can act as field-creating window layer. We develop a wide range of mixed-phase SiOx layers and with energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy we reveal the filamentous nanostructure of films produced with high hydrogen dilution of the precursor gas mixture. A partial decoupling of electrical and optical parameters is achieved for such films, where the transparency and the refractive index are determined mostly by the silicon oxide matrix, while sufficient transverse conductivity for the use in solar cells is maintained by few-nanometer-wide silicon filaments. In thin-film silicon solar cells, p-type SiOx 0.5 shows the best results as a window layer with enhanced transparency, while strongly phosphorous-doped n-type SiOx 1 is best suited for use as an intermediate reflecting layer in tandem cells due to a low refractive index of 1.8 with sufficient transverse conductivity. The tunable resistance of doped SiOx layers can be used at various locations in a Micromorph cell to quench shunts or bad diodes in spatially non-uniform devices. Implementation of SiOx with these three functionalities in Micromorph cells has significantly contributed to increasing the best initial efficiency from 11.8% in 2006 to 13.5% in 2010. While rough ZnO front electrodes and SiOx-based intermediate reflecting layers both help to improve Micromorph cell efficiencies, they render the devices more sensitive to water-vapor-induced degradation. With lock-in thermography measurements we demonstrate that water contamination affects mainly the cell borders resulting in non-uniform distribution of the local open circuit voltage. Finally we show how free-carrier absorption and surface plasmon polariton absorption can reduce the reflectivity of the back reflector, and we present preliminary results aimed toward the realization of an absorption-free back reflector making use of polished ZnO and sputtered silver layers.

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