Date of Graduation

12-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Electrical Engineering

Advisor

Vasundara V. Varadan

Committee Member

Samir El-Ghazaly

Second Committee Member

Hameed Naseem

Third Committee Member

Reeta Vyas

Fourth Committee Member

Shui-Qing Yu

Abstract

Thin film solar cells are promising to realize cheap solar energy. Compared to conventional wafer cells, they can reduce the use of semiconductor material by 90%. The efficiency of thin film solar cells, however, is limited due to insufficient light absorption. Sufficient light absorption at the bandgap of semiconductor requires a light path more than 10x the thickness of the semiconductor. Advanced designs for light trapping are necessary for solar cells to absorb sufficient light within a limited volume of semiconductor. The goal is to convert the incident light into a trapped mode in the semiconductor layer.

In this dissertation, a critical review of currently used methods for light trapping in solar cells is presented. The disadvantage of each design is pointed out including insufficient enhancement, undesired optical loss and undesired loss in carrier transport. The focus of the dissertation is light trapping by plasmonic and photonic structures in thin film Si solar cells. The performance of light trapping by plasmonic structures is dependent on the efficiency of photon radiation from plasmonic structures. The theory of antenna radiation is used to study the radiation by plasmonic structures. In order to achieve efficient photon radiation at a plasmonic resonance, a proper distribution of surface charges is necessary.

The planar fishnet structure is proposed as a substitution for plasmonic particles. Large particles are required in order to resonate at the bandgap of semiconductor material. Hence, the resulting overall thickness of solar cells with large particles is large. Instead, the resonance of fishnet structure can be tuned without affecting the overall cell thickness. Numerical simulation shows that the enhancement of light absorption in the active layer is over 10x compared to the same cell without fishnet. Photons radiated from the resonating fishnet structure travel in multiple directions within the semiconductor layer. There is enhanced field localization due to interference. The short circuit current was enhanced by 13.29%.

Photonic structures such as nanodomes and gratings are studied. Compared to existing designs, photonic structures studied in this dissertation exhibited further improvements in light absorption and carrier transport. The nanodome geometry was combined with conductive charge collectors in order to perform simultaneous enhancement in optics and carrier transport. Despite the increased volume of semiconductor material, the collection length for carriers is less than the diffusion length for minority carriers. The nanodome geometry can be used in the back end and the front end of solar cells. A blazed grating structure made of transparent conductive oxide serves as the back passivation layer while enhancing light absorption. The surface area of the absorber is increased by only 15%, indicating a limited increase in surface recombination. The resulting short circuit current is enhanced by over 20%.

The designs presented in the dissertation have demonstrated enhancement in Si thin film solar cells. The enhancement is achieved without hurting carrier transport in solar cells. As a result, the enhancement in light absorption can efficiently convert to the enhancement in cell efficiency. The fabrication of the proposed designs in this dissertation involves expensive process such as electron beam lithography. Future work is focused on optical designs that are feasible for cheap fabrication process. The designs studied in this dissertation can serve as prototype designs for future work.

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