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- All Subjects: energy
To date, the most popular and dominant material for commercial solar cells is
crystalline silicon (or wafer-Si). It has the highest cell efficiency and cell lifetime out
of all commercial solar cells. Although the potential of crystalline-Si solar cells in
supplying energy demands is enormous, their future growth will likely be constrained
by two major bottlenecks. The first is the high electricity input to produce
crystalline-Si solar cells and modules, and the second is the limited supply of silver
(Ag) reserves. These bottlenecks prevent crystalline-Si solar cells from reaching
terawatt-scale deployment, which means the electricity produced by crystalline-Si
solar cells would never fulfill a noticeable portion of our energy demands in the future.
In order to solve the issue of Ag limitation for the front metal grid, aluminum (Al)
electroplating has been developed as an alternative metallization technique in the
fabrication of crystalline-Si solar cells. The plating is carried out in a
near-room-temperature ionic liquid by means of galvanostatic electrolysis. It has been
found that dense, adherent Al deposits with resistivity in the high 10^–6 ohm-cm range
can be reproducibly obtained directly on Si substrates and nickel seed layers. An
all-Al Si solar cell, with an electroplated Al front electrode and a screen-printed Al
back electrode, has been successfully demonstrated based on commercial p-type
monocrystalline-Si solar cells, and its efficiency is approaching 15%. Further
optimization of the cell fabrication process, in particular a suitable patterning
technique for the front silicon nitride layer, is expected to increase the efficiency of
the cell to ~18%. This shows the potential of Al electroplating in cell metallization is
promising and replacing Ag with Al as the front finger electrode is feasible.
CdTe/MgxCd1-xTe double heterostructures (DHs) have been grown on lattice matched InSb (001) substrates using Molecular Beam Epitaxy. The MgxCd1-xTe layers, which have a wider bandgap and type-I band edge alignment with CdTe, provide sufficient carrier confinement to CdTe, so that the optical properties of CdTe can be studied. The DH samples show very strong Photoluminescence (PL) intensity, long carrier lifetimes (up to 3.6 μs) and low effective interface recombination velocity at the CdTe/MgxCd1 xTe heterointerface (~1 cm/s), indicating the high material quality. Indium has been attempted as an n-type dopant in CdTe and it is found that the carriers are 100% ionized in the doping range of 1×1016 cm-3 to 1×1018 cm-3. With decent doping levels, long minority carrier lifetime, and almost perfect surface passivation by the MgxCd1-xTe layer, the CdTe/MgxCd1-xTe DHs are applied to high efficiency CdTe solar cells. Monocrystalline CdTe solar cells with efficiency of 17.0% and a record breaking open circuit voltage of 1.096 V have been demonstrated in our group.
Mg0.13Cd0.87Te (1.7 eV), also with high material quality, has been proposed as a current matching cell to Si (1.1 eV) solar cells, which could potentially enable a tandem solar cell with high efficiency and thus lower the electricity cost. The properties of Mg0.13Cd0.87Te/Mg0.5Cd0.5Te DHs and solar cells have been investigated. Carrier lifetime as long as 0.56 μs is observed and a solar cell with 11.2% efficiency and open circuit voltage of 1.176 V is demonstrated.
The CdTe/MgxCd1-xTe DHs could also be potentially applied to luminescence refrigeration, which could be used in vibration-free space applications. Both external luminescence quantum efficiency and excitation-dependent PL measurement show that the best quality samples are almost 100% dominated by radiative recombination, and calculation shows that the internal quantum efficiency can be as high as 99.7% at the optimal injection level (1017 cm-3). External luminescence quantum efficiency of over 98% can be realized for luminescence refrigeration with the proper design of optical structures.
Polycrystalline CdS/CdTe solar cells continue to dominate the thin-film photovoltaics industry with an achieved record efficiency of over 22% demonstrated by First Solar, yet monocrystalline CdTe devices have received considerably less attention over the years. Monocrystalline CdTe double-heterostructure solar cells show great promise with respect to addressing the problem of low Voc with the passing of the 1 V benchmark. Rapid progress has been made in driving the efficiency in these devices ever closer to the record presently held by polycrystalline thin-films. This achievement is primarily due to the utilization of a remote p-n heterojunction in which the heavily doped contact materials, which are so problematic in terms of increasing non-radiative recombination inside the absorber, are moved outside of the CdTe double heterostructure with two MgyCd1-yTe barrier layers to provide confinement and passivation at the CdTe surfaces. Using this design, the pursuit and demonstration of efficiencies beyond 20% in CdTe solar cells is reported through the study and optimization of the structure barriers, contacts layers, and optical design. Further development of a wider bandgap MgxCd1-xTe solar cell based on the same design is included with the intention of applying this knowledge to the development of a tandem solar cell constructed on a silicon subcell. The exploration of different hole-contact materials—ZnTe, CuZnS, and a-Si:H—and their optimization is presented throughout the work. Devices utilizing a-Si:H hole contacts exhibit open-circuit voltages of up to 1.11 V, a maximum total-area efficiency of 18.5% measured under AM1.5G, and an active-area efficiency of 20.3% for CdTe absorber based devices. The achievement of voltages beyond 1.1V while still maintaining relatively high fill factors with no rollover, either before or after open-circuit, is a promising indicator that this approach can result in devices surpassing the 22% record set by polycrystalline designs. MgxCd1-xTe absorber based devices have been demonstrated with open-circuit voltages of up to 1.176 V and a maximum active-area efficiency of 11.2%. A discussion of the various loss mechanisms present within these devices, both optical and electrical, concludes with the presentation of a series of potential design changes meant to address these issues.
Silicon photovoltaics (PV) is approaching its theoretical efficiency limit as a single-junction technology. To break this limit and further lower the PV-generated levelized cost of electricity, it is necessary to engineer a silicon-based “tandem” technology in which a solar cell of another material is stacked on top of silicon to make more efficient use of the full solar spectrum.
This dissertation understands and develops four aspects of silicon-based tandem PV technology. First, a new “spectral efficiency” concept is proposed to understand how tandem cells should be designed and to identify the best tandem partners for silicon cells. Using spectral efficiency, a top-cell-design guide is constructed for silicon-based tandems that sets efficiency targets for top cells with various bandgaps to achieve targeted tandem efficiencies.
Second, silicon heterojunction solar cells are tuned to the near-infrared spectrum to enable world-record perovskite/silicon tandems both in two- and four-terminal configurations. In particular, for the 23.6%-efficient two-terminal tandem, a single-side textured silicon bottom cell is fabricated with a low-refractive-index silicon nanoparticle layer as a rear reflector. This design boosts the current density to 18.5 mA/cm2; this value exceeds that of any other silicon bottom cell and matches that of the top cell.
Third, “PVMirrors” are proposed as a novel tandem architecture to integrate silicon cells with various top cells. A strength of the design is that the PVMirror collects diffuse light as a concentrating technology. With this concept, a gallium-arsenide/silicon PVMirror tandem is demonstrated with an outdoor efficiency of 29.6%, with respect to the global irradiance.
Finally, a simple and versatile analytical model is constructed to evaluate the cost competitiveness of an arbitrary tandem against its sub-cell alternatives. It indicates that tandems will become increasingly attractive in the market, as the ratio of sub-cell module cost to area-related balance-of-system cost—the key metric that will determine the market success or failure of tandems—is decreasing.
As an evolution of silicon technology, silicon-based tandems are the future of PV. They will allow more people to have access to clean energy at ultra-low cost. This thesis defines both the technological and economic landscape of silicon-based tandems, and makes important contributions to this tandem future.
In this thesis, the methods of aluminum electroplating in an ionic liquid for silicon solar cell front side metallization were studied. It focused on replacing the current silver screen printing with an alternative metallization technology using a low-cost Earth-abundant metal for mass production, due to the high cost and limited availability of silver. A conventional aluminum electroplating method was employed for silicon solar cells fabrication on both p-type and n-type substrates. The highest efficiency of 17.9% was achieved in the n-type solar cell with a rear junction, which is comparable to that of the same structure cell with screen printed silver electrodes from industrial production lines. It also showed better spiking resistant performance than the common structure p-type solar cell. Further efforts were put on the development of a novel light-induced plating of aluminum technique. The aluminum was deposited directly on a silicon substrate without the assistance of a conductive seed layer, thus simplified and reduced the process cost. The plated aluminum has good adhesion to the silicon surface with the resistivity as low as 4×10–6 -cm. A new demo tool was designed and set up for the light-induced plating experiment, aiming to utilize this technique in large-size solar cells fabrication and mass production. Besides the metallization methods, a comprehensive sensitivity analysis for the efficiency dispersion in the production of crystalline-Si solar cells was presented based on numerical simulations. Temperature variation in the diffusion furnace was the most significant cause of the efficiency dispersion. It was concluded that a narrow efficiency range of ±0.5% absolute is achievable if the emitter diffusion temperature is confined to a 13˚C window, while other cell parameters vary within their normal windows. Possible methods to minimize temperature variation in emitter diffusion were proposed.
This dissertation addresses challenges pertaining to multi-junction (MJ) solar cells from material development to device design and characterization. Firstly, among the various methods to improve the energy conversion efficiency of MJ solar cells using, a novel approach proposed recently is to use II-VI (MgZnCd)(SeTe) and III-V (AlGaIn)(AsSb) semiconductors lattice-matched on GaSb or InAs substrates for current-matched subcells with minimal defect densities. CdSe/CdTe superlattices are proposed as a potential candidate for a subcell in the MJ solar cell designs using this material system, and therefore the material properties of the superlattices are studied. The high structural qualities of the superlattices are obtained from high resolution X-ray diffraction measurements and cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy images. The effective bandgap energies of the superlattices obtained from the photoluminescence (PL) measurements vary with the layer thicknesses, and are smaller than the bandgap energies of either the constituent material. Furthermore, The PL peak position measured at the steady state exhibits a blue shift that increases with the excess carrier concentration. These results confirm a strong type-II band edge alignment between CdSe and CdTe. The valence band offset between unstrained CdSe and CdTe is determined as 0.63 eV±0.06 eV by fitting the measured PL peak positions using the Kronig-Penney model. The blue shift in PL peak position is found to be primarily caused by the band bending effect based on self-consistent solutions of the Schrödinger and Poisson equations. Secondly, the design of the contact grid layout is studied to maximize the power output and energy conversion efficiency for concentrator solar cells. Because the conventional minimum power loss method used for the contact design is not accurate in determining the series resistance loss, a method of using a distributed series resistance model to maximize the power output is proposed for the contact design. It is found that the junction recombination loss in addition to the series resistance loss and shadowing loss can significantly affect the contact layout. The optimal finger spacing and maximum efficiency calculated by the two methods are close, and the differences are dependent on the series resistance and saturation currents of solar cells. Lastly, the accurate measurements of external quantum efficiency (EQE) are important for the design and development of MJ solar cells. However, the electrical and optical couplings between the subcells have caused EQE measurement artifacts. In order to interpret the measurement artifacts, DC and small signal models are built for the bias condition and the scan of chopped monochromatic light in the EQE measurements. Characterization methods are developed for the device parameters used in the models. The EQE measurement artifacts are found to be caused by the shunt and luminescence coupling effects, and can be minimized using proper voltage and light biases. Novel measurement methods using a pulse voltage bias or a pulse light bias are invented to eliminate the EQE measurement artifacts. These measurement methods are nondestructive and easy to implement. The pulse voltage bias or pulse light bias is superimposed on the conventional DC voltage and light biases, in order to control the operating points of the subcells and counterbalance the effects of shunt and luminescence coupling. The methods are demonstrated for the first time to effectively eliminate the measurement artifacts.
Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) possesses preferable optical properties for photovoltaic (PV) applications: a near optimum bandgap of 1.5 eV, and a high absorption coefficient of over 15,000 cm-1 at the band edge. The detailed-balance limiting efficiency is 32.1% with an open-circuit voltage (Voc) of 1.23 V under the AM1.5G spectrum. The record polycrystalline CdTe thin-film cell efficiency has reached 22.1%, with excellent short-circuit current densities (Jsc) and fill-factors (FF). However, the Voc (~900 mV) is still far below the theoretical value, due to the large non-radiative recombination in the polycrystalline CdTe absorber, and the low-level p-type doping.
Monocrystalline CdTe/MgCdTe double-heterostructures (DHs) grown on lattice-matched InSb substrates have demonstrated impressively long carrier lifetimes in both unintentionally doped and Indium-doped n-type CdTe samples. The non-radiative recombination inside of, and at the interfaces of the CdTe absorbers in CdTe/MgCdTe DH samples has been significantly reduced due to the use of lattice-matched InSb substrates, and the excellent passivation provided by the MgCdTe barrier layers. The external luminescent quantum efficiency (η_ext) of n-type CdTe/MgCdTe DHs is up to 3.1%, observed from a 1-µm-thick CdTe/MgCdTe DH doped at 1017 cm-3. The 3.1% η_ext corresponds to an internal luminescent quantum efficiency (η_int) of 91%. Such a high η_ext gives an implied Voc, or quasi-Fermi-level splitting, of 1.13 V.
To obtain actual Voc, the quasi-Fermi-level splitting should be extracted to outside the circuit using a hole-selective contact layer. However, CdTe is difficult to be doped p-type, making it challenging to make efficient PN junction CdTe solar cells. With the use of MgCdTe barrier layers, the hole-contact layer can be defective without affecting the voltage. P-type hydrogenated amorphous silicon is an effective hole-selective contact for CdTe solar cells, enabling monocrystalline CdTe/MgCdTe DH solar cells to achieve Voc over 1.1 V, and a maximum active area efficiency of 18.8% (Jsc = 23.3 mA/cm2, Voc = 1.114 V, and FF = 72.3%). The knowledge gained through making the record-efficiency monocrystalline CdTe cell, particularly the n-type doping and the double-heterostructure design, may be transferable to polycrystalline CdTe thin-film cells and improve their competitiveness in the PV industry.
Silicon photovoltaics is the dominant contribution to the global solar energy production. As increasing conversion efficiency has become one of the most important factors to lower the cost of photovoltaic systems, the idea of making a multijunction solar cell based on a silicon bottom cell has attracted broad interest. Here the potential of using dilute nitride GaNPAs alloys for a lattice-matched 3-terminal 2-junction Si-based tandem solar cell through multiscale modeling is investigated. To calculate the electronic band structure of dilute nitride alloys with relatively low computational cost, the sp^3 d^5 s^* s_N tight-binding model is chosen, as it has been demonstrated to obtain quantitatively correct trends for the lowest conduction band near Γ, L, and X for dilute-N GaNAs. A genetic algorithm is used to optimize the sp^3 d^5 s^* tight-binding model for pure GaP and GaAs for their optical properties. Then the optimized sp^3 d^5 s^* s_N parametrizations are obtained for GaNP and GaNAs by fitting to experimental bandgap values. After that, a virtual crystal approach gives the Hamiltonian for GaNPAs alloys. From their tight-binding Hamiltonian, the first-order optical response functions of dilute nitride GaNAs, GaNP, and GaNPAs are calculated. As the N mole fraction varies, the calculated critical optical features vary with the correct trends, and agree well with experiment. The calculated optical properties are then used as input for the solar device simulations based on Silvaco ATLAS. For device simulation, a bottom cell model is first constructed to generate performance results that agree well with a demonstrated high-efficiency Si heterojunction interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cell reported by Kaneka. The front a-Si/c-Si interface is then replaced by a GaP/Si interface for the investigation of the sensitivity of the GaP/Si interface to interface defects in terms of degradation of the IBC cell performance, where we find that an electric field that induces strong band bending can significantly mitigate the impact of the interfacial traps. Finally, a lattice-matched 3-terminal 2-junction tandem model is built for performance simulation by stacking a dilute nitride GaNP(As) cell on the Si IBC cell connected through a GaP/Si interface. The two subcells operate quasi-independently. In this 3-terminal tandem model, traps at the GaP/Si interface still significantly impact the performance of the Si subcell, but their effects on the GaNP subcell are relatively small. Assuming the interfacial traps are well passivated, the tandem efficiency surpasses that of a single-junction Si cell, with values close to 33% based on realistic parameters.