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Nanophotonic Light Trapping In Thin Solar Cells


Callahan, Dennis Michael (2015) Nanophotonic Light Trapping In Thin Solar Cells. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z92N506Z.


Over the last several decades there have been significant advances in the study and understanding of light behavior in nanoscale geometries. Entire fields such as those based on photonic crystals, plasmonics and metamaterials have been developed, accelerating the growth of knowledge related to nanoscale light manipulation. Coupled with recent interest in cheap, reliable renewable energy, a new field has blossomed, that of nanophotonic solar cells.

In this thesis, we examine important properties of thin-film solar cells from a nanophotonics perspective. We identify key differences between nanophotonic devices and traditional, thick solar cells. We propose a new way of understanding and describing limits to light trapping and show that certain nanophotonic solar cell designs can have light trapping limits above the so called ray-optic or ergodic limit. We propose that a necessary requisite to exceed the traditional light trapping limit is that the active region of the solar cell must possess a local density of optical states (LDOS) higher than that of the corresponding, bulk material. Additionally, we show that in addition to having an increased density of states, the absorber must have an appropriate incoupling mechanism to transfer light from free space into the optical modes of the device. We outline a portfolio of new solar cell designs that have potential to exceed the traditional light trapping limit and numerically validate our predictions for select cases.

We emphasize the importance of thinking about light trapping in terms of maximizing the optical modes of the device and efficiently coupling light into them from free space. To further explore these two concepts, we optimize patterns of superlattices of air holes in thin slabs of Si and show that by adding a roughened incoupling layer the total absorbed current can be increased synergistically. We suggest that the addition of a random scattering surface to a periodic patterning can increase incoupling by lifting the constraint of selective mode occupation associated with periodic systems.

Lastly, through experiment and simulation, we investigate a potential high efficiency solar cell architecture that can be improved with the nanophotonic light trapping concepts described in this thesis. Optically thin GaAs solar cells are prepared by the epitaxial liftoff process by removal from their growth substrate and addition of a metallic back reflector. A process of depositing large area nano patterns on the surface of the cells is developed using nano imprint lithography and implemented on the thin GaAs cells.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Nanophotonics, photonics, photovoltaic, solar cell, light trapping
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Materials Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Thesis Committee:
  • Atwater, Harry Albert (chair)
  • Painter, Oskar J.
  • Greer, Julia R.
  • Faraon, Andrei
Defense Date:1 October 2014
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:10082014-105407332
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8677
Deposited By: Dennis Callahan
Deposited On:13 Nov 2014 18:52
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:12

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