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Paths Towards High Efficiency Silicon Photovoltaics


Emmer, Hal S. (2016) Paths Towards High Efficiency Silicon Photovoltaics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9RV0KN6.


While photovoltaics hold much promise as a sustainable electricity source, continued cost reduction is necessary to continue the current growth in deployment. A promising path to continuing to reduce total system cost is by increasing device efficiency. This thesis explores several silicon-based photovoltaic technologies with the potential to reach high power conversion efficiencies. Silicon microwire arrays, formed by joining millions of micron diameter wires together, were developed as a low cost, low efficiency solar technology. The feasibility of transitioning this to a high efficiency technology was explored. In order to achieve high efficiency, high quality silicon material must be used. Lifetimes and diffusion lengths in these wires were measured and the action of various surface passivation treatments studied. While long lifetimes were not achieved, strong inversion at the silicon / hydrofluoric acid interface was measured, which is important for understanding a common measurement used in solar materials characterization.

Cryogenic deep reactive ion etching was then explored as a method for fabricating high quality wires and improved lifetimes were measured. As another way to reach high efficiency, growth of silicon-germanium alloy wires was explored as a substrate for a III-V on Si tandem device. Patterned arrays of wires with up to 12% germanium incorporation were grown. This alloy is more closely lattice matched to GaP than silicon and allows for improvements in III-V integration on silicon.

Heterojunctions of silicon are another promising path towards achieving high efficiency devices. The GaP/Si heterointerface and properties of GaP grown on silicon were studied. Additionally, a substrate removal process was developed which allows the formation of high quality free standing GaP films and has wide applications in the field of optics.

Finally, the effect of defects at the interface of the amorphous silicon heterojuction cell was studied. Excellent voltages, and thus efficiencies, are achievable with this system, but the voltage is very sensitive to growth conditions. We directly measured lateral transport lengths at the heterointerface on the order of tens to hundreds of microns, which allows carriers to travel towards any defects that are present and recombine. This measurement adds to the understanding of these types of high efficiency devices and may aid in future device design.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Photovoltaics, silicon, gallium phosphide, microwire, passivation
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
Group:Kavli Nanoscience Institute
Thesis Committee:
  • Greer, Julia R. (chair)
  • Johnson, William Lewis
  • Schwab, Keith C.
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Defense Date:10 December 2015
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:04102016-142401400
Persistent URL:
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Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9665
Deposited By: Hal Emmer
Deposited On:05 May 2016 00:07
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:12

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