Hui Zhao

Date of Award


Degree Type


Embargo Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Second Advisor

Schiff, Eric A.


light trapping, parasitic, TCO, thin film silicon, waveguide

Subject Categories



Crystalline silicon solar cells have been the mainstream technology for photovoltaic energy conversion since their invention in 1954. Since silicon is an indirect band gap material, its absorption coefficient is low for much of the solar spectrum, and the highest conversion efficiencies are achieved only in cells that are thicker than about 0.1 mm. Light trapping by total internal reflection is important to increase the optical absorption in silicon layers, and becomes increasingly important as the layers are thinned. Light trapping is typically characterized by the enhancement of the absorptance of a solar cell beyond the value for a single pass of the incident beam through an absorbing semiconductor layer. Using an equipartition argument, in 1982 Yablonovitch calculated an enhancement of 4n2 , where n is the refractive index. We have extracted effective light-trapping enhancements from published external quantum efficiency spectra in several dozen silicon solar cells. These results show that this "thermodynamic" enhancement has never been achieved experimentally. The reasons for incomplete light trapping could be poor anti-reflection coating, inefficient light scattering, and parasitic absorption. We report the light-trapping properties of nanocrystalline silicon nip solar cells deposited onto two types of Ag/ZnO backreflectors at United Solar Ovonic, LLC. We prepared the first type by first making silver nanparticles onto a stainless steel substrate, and then overcoating the nanoparticles with a second silver layer. The second type was prepared at United Solar using a continuous silver film. Both types were then overcoated with a ZnO film. The root mean square roughness varied from 27 to 61 nm, and diffuse reflectance at 1000 nm wavelength varied from 0.4 to 0.8. The finished cells have a thin, indium-tin oxide layer on the top that acts as an antireflection coating. For both backreflector types, the short-circuit photocurrent densities JSC for solar illumination were about 25 mA/cm2 for 1.5 micron cells. We also measured external quantum efficiency spectra and optical reflectance spectra, which were only slightly affected by the back reflector morphology. We performed a thermodynamic calculation for the optical absorptance in the silicon layer and the top oxide layer to explain the experimental results; the calculation is an extension of previous work by Stuart and Hall that incorporates the antireflection properties and absorption in the top oxide film. From our calculations and experimental measurements, we concluded that parasitic absorption in this film is the prominent reason for incomplete light trapping in these cells. To reduce the optical parasitic loss in the top oxide layer, we propose a bilayer design, and show the possible benefits to the photocurrent density.

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