Light trapping polymer-based coatings for cost effective flexible thin film photovoltaics

Thin film silicon solar cells benefit from a lower fabrication cost than crystalline silicon cells, but they have a lower efficiency. The aim of this thesis was to explore the light-management capabilities of sub-micron polymer-based textures, both for the back reflector and for the front encapsulation of thin film silicon solar cells. The thin active layers of these devices require some form of photon path length enhancement to increase their efficiency. For this purpose, light trapping textures were replicated using transparent low shrinkage acrylate hyperbranched polymer nanocomposites. To enable low pressure replication of textures with enhanced mechanical performance, silica nanoparticles and silicon-based sol-gel precursors were combined to create novel low viscosity hybrid nanocomposite resins. Indeed, the viscosity of these hybrid suspensions was found to be one to two orders of magnitude lower than that of particulate suspensions with an equivalent silica loading. The hybrid resins were cured by combined UV polymerization and condensation, and the mechanical performance of the resulting nanocomposites was characterized in terms of their Vickers microhardness. The Vickers microhardness increased from 112 MPa for the unmodified polymer matrix to 190 MPa and 148 MPa for the hybrid nanocomposites and particulate nanocomposites, respectively, at 20 vol% silica, and reached as much as 287 MPa for the hybrid nanocomposites at 30 vol% silica. For the back reflector, light scattering (LS) textures in the form of random sub-micron pyramidal features were replicated in the nanocomposites using a nickel template and UV-nanoimprint lithography. The influence of nanoparticle content and pressure on the morphology and light scattering properties of the replicas was studied using scanning electron microscopy and optical analysis. The roughness and coherence length of the textures were similar to those of the template for all the compositions and process pressures investigated. After optimization of the dual-cure process, very high replication fidelity could be obtained in each case, leading to haze greater than 99 % over the whole of the visible light spectrum and very effective light scattering performance for a broad range of angles. A durable antireflective (AR) front encapsulation is also key to enhancing the photovoltaic performance of thin film silicon solar cells. The AR performance of hyperbranched polymer nanocomposite textures replicated from a moth eye pattern using UV-nanoimprint lithography was established both experimentally and through simulations. Optimum patterns were found on the basis of effective medium theory (EMT) to be arrays of paraboloids with a periodicity of 340 nm, which provided stable AR performance for aspect ratios in the range of 0.6 to 1.75. Good agreement was obtained between the simulated and measured optical behavior of such AR arrays, with a normal reflectance in the visible range of around 4 % when using a glass substrate. The simulations also predicted a reduction in the hemispherical reflectance from 15 % to 6 % for this texture. A hierarchical texture was replicated from a lotus leaf into the hyperbranched polymer modified with a perfluorinated acrylate, and the same material was also used to replicate the AR moth eye texture. In both cases, the replication fidelity was again found to be excellent and the textures exhibited improved hydrophobicity. [...]


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