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Silicon Microwire Photovoltaics


Kelzenberg, Michael David (2010) Silicon Microwire Photovoltaics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/99RA-7Z65.


The favorable bandgap and natural abundance of Si, combined with the large expertise base for semiconductor wafer processing, have led to the use of wafer-based crystalline Si in the vast majority of photovoltaic cells and modules produced worldwide. However the high cost of purifying, crystallizing, and sawing Si wafers has inhibited these photovoltaic energy sources from approaching cost parity with fossil fuels. Crystalline Si microwires, grown by the catalytic vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) chemical vapor deposition process, have recently emerged as promising candidate materials for thin-film photovoltaics--combining low-cost Si deposition techniques with mechanically flexible, high-performance device geometries.

This thesis presents several achievements that have helped to establish the viability of high-performance Si microwire photovoltaics. We begin by developing a comprehensive numerical model of Si microwire-array solar cells, combining finite-element device physics simulations with time-domain optical methods to predict that these devices can exceed 17% solar energy conversion efficiency. We then turn our attention to the optical properties of Si microwire arrays, concerned that the sparsely packed wires might not absorb enough sunlight. However our experiments reveal that simple light-trapping techniques can dramatically improve their absorption, not only permitting them to effectively absorb sunlight using 1/100th as much Si as a wafer, but also leading to an unexpected and fundamentally advantageous absorption enhancement over classical light trapping in planar materials. Techniques are then presented to characterize the material quality of VLS-grown Si wires. Although the growth of these wires is catalyzed by notoriously undesirable metal impurities for crystalline Si (e.g., Au, Ni, and Cu), we find it is nonetheless possible to synthesize high-quality material with remarkable diffusion lengths. By combining these materials with effective surface-passivation and a novel junction-fabrication technique, we realize single-wire solar cells that achieve open-circuit voltages of ~600 mV and with fill factors exceeding 80%. These observations suggest that Si microwires may offer a promising alternative to wafers for cost-effective crystalline Si photovoltaics.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:microwire, silicon, photovoltaics, vapor-liquid-solid, device physics simulations, Sentaurus, finite difference time domain simulations, Lumerical, spectrophotometer, light trapping, diffusion length, scanning photocurrent microscopy, surface passivation, radial junction, solar cell
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Electrical Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Thesis Committee:
  • Atwater, Harry Albert (chair)
  • Lewis, Nathan Saul
  • Yang, Changhuei
  • Yariv, Amnon
Defense Date:19 May 2010
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06082010-074917811
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5938
Deposited By: Michael Kelzenberg
Deposited On:02 Apr 2012 19:19
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:12

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