Cost effective high efficiency solar cells

Saha, Sayan
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

To make solar energy mainstream, lower-cost and more efficient power generation is key. A lot of effort in the silicon photovoltaic industry has gone into using fewer raw materials (i.e., silicon) and using more inexpensive processing techniques and materials to reduce cost. Utilizing thinner substrates not only reduces cost, but improves cell efficiency provided both front and back surfaces are well-passivated. In the current work, a kerf-less process is developed in which ultra-thin (~25 [mu]m), flexible mono-crystalline silicon substrates can be obtained through an exfoliation technique from a thicker parent wafer. These substrates, when exfoliated, have thick metal backing which provides mechanical support to the thin silicon and enables ease of processing of the substrates for device fabrication. Optical, electrical, and reliability characterization studies for completed cells show this technology’s compatibility with a heterojunction solar cell process flow. Building on the promising results achieved on exfoliated substrates, further optimization work was carried out. Namely, an improved cleaning process was developed to remove front surface contamination on textured surfaces of exfoliated, flexible mono-crystalline silicon. This process is very effective at cleaning metallic and organic residues, without introducing additional contamination or degrading the supporting back metal used for ultra-thin substrate handling. Spectroscopic studies were performed to qualitatively and quantitatively understand the efficacy of different cleaning procedures in order to develop the new cleaning process. Results of the spectroscopic studies were further supported by comparing the electrical performance of cells fabricated with different cleans. To replace silver as contact metal with a cheaper substitute like nickel or copper, patterning and etching processes are generally used. A low-cost alternative is proposed, where a reusable shadow mask with a metal grid pattern is kept in contact with the surface of the substrate in a plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition chamber during silicon nitride deposition. This leaves a patterned silicon surface for selective metal growth by direct electro-deposition. The viability of this process flow is demonstrated by fabricating diffused junction n[superscript+]pp[superscript+] monofacial and bifacial cells and electrically characterizing them. Investigation of the factors limiting the efficiency of the cells was carried out by lifetime measurement experiments.