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Abstract

Polycrystalline zinc oxide (ZnO) films, prepared by low-pressure chemical vapor deposition are investigated in this thesis. ZnO belongs to the class of transparent conductive oxide materials, as it is transparent to light from the visible to the near-infrared range and is simultaneously electrically conductive. These two properties allow ZnO films to be integrated in thin-film silicon solar cells, as well as other opto-electronic devices. In particular, thin-film solar cells require a contact layer covering the whole active layer in order to efficiently collect the photogenerated electrical current, and therefore, the film electrode at the front of the cell has to be a window to the sunlight, in addition to being able to transport current. ZnO’s electrical conductivity is usually improved by doping with impurities like boron, but the film transparency is reduced, and consequently, the current that the solar cell can produce decreases. Thus, the first point investigated in this thesis is to find ways to relax the trade-off between transparency and conductivity. Instead of doping, which increases the electron concentration, the electron mobility has to be improved. To do so, the electron transport is first studied and modeled for standard films, in order to better define and understand its limitations. Then, a new way of preparing ZnO bilayer films is shown to lead to enhanced transparency and light scattering, for a maintained conductivity compared to uniformly doped films. Alternatively, various treatments (hydrogen plasma, vacuum annealing and ultraviolet exposure) are tested, all of which reduce the density of defects that cause electron scattering in the ZnO; treated films present an improved conductivity and very high mobilities close to 60 cm2V−1s−1, which corresponds to the mobility value in single crystals of equivalent doping. In addition, these films absorb less than 2% of the visible-to-infrared light, which makes them very promising ultra-transparent electrodes, for solar cells or other applications. For use in thin-film silicon solar cells, two additional criteria have to be met besides trans- parency and conductivity. First, because the front electrode is also the substrate for the deposition of the rest of the cell layers, its surface morphology has to be favorable to the growth of silicon. Moreover, this surface has to present a rough texture capable of diffusing and trapping the light into the cell, and increasing its chance of being absorbed. These charac- teristics can be incompatible, but are nevertheless necessary to reach thin-film solar cells with high efficiencies. So, the second point of interest of this thesis is to adapt the surface of ZnO layers by investigating their preparation method. Combinations of different growth regimes in multilayers are proposed to enable a smoother controllable of the surface without resort to additional etching treatments, leading to improved solar cell electrical performance. Finally, the stability of ZnO films exposed to various conditions that modify their electrical and optical properties is investigated. First, ZnO is exposed to different oxidizing conditions (storage and annealing in air, exposure to moisture, plasma of carbon dioxide). The loss in conductivity from the interaction of the oxygen species with ZnO is characterized by a new infrared spectroscopic method and a hydrogen plasma treatment is investigated as a means to reverse or partially prevent the degradation in conductivity. Then, the effect of simulated sunlight exposure on ZnO film properties in solar cells is investigated. The resistivity of the front ZnO electrode decreases due to ultraviolet light absorption, and the resistivity of the back electrode increases due to the chemisorption of oxygen species, in absence of ultraviolet light. The front electrode transparency is also degraded; this effect is more pronounced for doped ZnO and its impact on the current photogeneration of solar cells is demonstrated. Therefore, a specific optimization of the front and back electrodes appears necessary. This thesis contributes on the one side to an in-depth understanding of the opto-electrical properties of ZnO films prepared by low-pressure chemical vapor deposition. On the other side, the different proposed approaches enable more flexibility in the development of more efficient and stable electrodes, not only for solar cells, but for many other applications such as electroluminescent diodes, flat-panel displays, touch-screens or transparent transistors.

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