Photonic and plasmonic structures for enhancing efficiency of thin film silicon solar cells

Pattnaik, Sambit
Major Professor
Vikram L. Dalal
Rana Biswas
Committee Member
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Electrical and Computer Engineering

Crystalline silicon solar cells use high cost processing techniques as well as thick materials that are ~ 200µm thick to convert solar energy into electricity. From a cost viewpoint, it is highly advantageous to use thin film solar cells which are generally made in the range of 0.1-3µm in thickness. Due to this low thickness, the quantity of material is greatly reduced and so is the number and complexity of steps involved to complete a device, thereby allowing a continuous processing capability improving the throughput and hence greatly decreasing the cost. This also leads to faster payback time for the end user of the photovoltaic panel. In addition, due to the low thickness and the possibility of deposition on flexible foils, the photovoltaic (PV) modules can be flexible. Such flexible PV modules are well suited for building-integrated applications and for portable, foldable, PV power products.

For economical applications of solar cells, high efficiency is an important consideration. Since Si is an indirect bandgap material, a thin film of Si needs efficient light trapping to achieve high optical absorption. The previous work in this field has been mostly based on randomly textured back reflectors. In this work, we have used a novel approach, a periodic photonic and plasmonic structure, to optimize current density of the devices by absorbing longer wavelengths without hampering other properties. The two dimensional diffraction effect generated by a periodic structure with the plasmonic light concentration achieved by silver cones to efficiently propagate light in the plane at the back surface of a solar cell, achieves a significant increase in optical absorption. Using such structures, we achieved a 50%+ increase in short circuit current in a nano-crystalline (nc-Si) solar cell relative to stainless steel. In addition to nc-Si solar cells on stainless steel, we have also used the periodic photonic structure to enhance optical absorption in amorphous cells and tandem junction amorphous/nano-crystalline cells. These structures have been fabricated on flexible plastic substrates.

We will describe the use of periodic structures to achieve increased light absorption and enhanced photocurrents in thin film solar cells, and also compare them systematically with other textured substrates. We discuss the various technological aspects and obstacles faced before successful fabrication of such structure, and during the fabrication of solar cells on these structures. The ideas of periodic texturing and random texturing will be compared and an implementation of them together will be discussed.