Remote plasma chemical vapor deposition for high efficiency heterojunction solar cells on low cost, ultra-thin, semiconductor-on-metal substrates



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In the crystalline Si solar cell industry, there is a push to reduce module cost through a combination of thinner substrates and increased cell efficiency. Achieving solar cells with sub-100 µm substrates cost-effectively is a formidable task because such thin substrates impose stringent handling requirements and thermal budget due to their flexibility, ease of breakage, and low yield. Moreover, as the substrate thickness decreases the surface passivation quality dictates the performance of the cells. Crystalline Si heterojunction (HJ) solar cells based on hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) have attracted significant interest in recent years due to their excellent surface passivation properties, potential for high efficiency, low thermal budget and low cost. HJ cells with ultra-passivated surfaces showing > 700 mV open-circuit voltages (Voc) and > 20% conversion efficiency have been demonstrated. In these cells, it has been identified that high-quality a-Si:H films deposited by a low-damage plasma process is key to achieving such high cell performance. However, the options for low-damage plasma deposition process are limited.

The main objectives of this work are to develop a low-plasma damage a-Si:H thin film deposition process based on remote plasma chemical vapor deposition (RPCVD) and to demonstrate high efficiency HJ solar cells on bulk substrates as well as on ultra-thin silicon and germanium substrates obtained by a novel, low-cost semiconductor-on-metal (SOM) technology.

This manuscript presents a detailed description of the RPCVD system and the process leading to the realization of high quality a-Si:H thin films and high efficiency HJ solar cells. First, p-type a-Si:H thin films are developed and optimized, then HJ solar cells are subsequently fabricated on bulk and ultra-thin Si and Ge SOM substrates without intrinsic a-Si:H passivation. Single HJ cells on ~ 500 µm bulk Si and ~25 µm ultra-thin substrates exhibited conversion efficiencies of η = 16% (Voc = 615 mV, Jsc = 34 mA/cm2, and FF = 77%) and η = 11.2% (Voc = 605 mV, Jsc = 29.6 mA/cm2, and FF = 62.8%), respectively. The performance of the ~25 µm cell was further improved to η = 13.4% (Voc = 645 mV, Jsc = 31.4 mA/cm2, and FF = 66.2%) by implementing the dual HJ architecture without front side i-layer passivation. For single HJ cells based on Ge substrates, the results were η = 1.78 % (Voc = 148 mV, Jsc = 35.1 mA/cm2, and FF = 1.78%) on ~500 µm bulk Ge, compared to η =5.3% (Voc = 203 mV, Jsc = 44.7 mA/cm2, and FF = 5.28%) on ~ 50 µm Ge SOM substrates. Respectively, the results obtained on ultra-thin SOM substrates are among the highest reported in literature for based on comparable architecture and substrate thickness.

In order to achieve improved cell performance, dual HJ cells with i-layer passivation of both surfaces were fabricated. First, optimized RPCVD-based i-layer films were developed by varying the deposition temperature and H2 dilution ratio (R). It was found that excellent surface passivation on planar substrates with as-deposited minority carrier lifetimes > 1 ms is achievable by using deposition temperature of 200 ºC and moderate dilution ratio 0.5 ≤ R ≤ 1, even without the more rigorous RCA pre-cleaning process typically used in literature for achieving comparable results. Subsequently, dual HJ solar cells with i-layer films were demonstrated on planar and textured bulk Si substrates showing improved conversion efficiencies of η = 17.3% (Voc = 664 mV, Jsc = 34.34 mA/cm2 and FF = 76%) and η = 19.4% (Voc = 643 mV, Jsc = 38.99 mA/cm2, and FF = 77.5%), respectively.