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Modulated photonic-crystal structures as broadband back reflectors in thin-film solar cells


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Modulated photonic-crystal structures as broadband back reflectors

in thin-film solar cells

J. Krc,1M. Zeman,2S. L. Luxembourg,2and M. Topic1,a兲

1Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Trzaska 25, Si-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia 2DIMES, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5053, 2600 GB Delft, The Netherlands

共Received 5 January 2009; accepted 8 March 2009; published online 14 April 2009兲

A concept of a modulated one-dimensional photonic-crystal共PC兲 structure is introduced as a back reflector for thin-film solar cells. The structure comprises two PC parts, each consisting of layers of different thicknesses. Using layers of amorphous silicon and amorphous silicon nitride a reflectance close to 100% is achieved over a broad wavelength region共700–1300 nm兲. Based on this concept, a back reflector was designed for thin-film microcrystalline silicon solar cells, using n-doped amorphous silicon and ZnO:Al. Simulations show that the short-circuit current of the cell with a modulated PC back reflector closely resembles that of a cell with an ideal reflector. © 2009 American Institute of Physics. 关DOI:10.1063/1.3109781兴

Advanced concepts of light management in thin-film so-lar cells are needed to increase the conversion efficiency and/or to reduce the thickness of the layers in the cells. Pho-tonic crystals 共PCs兲 have been suggested as promising can-didates for improving the optical performance of solar cells.1–7While two- or three-dimensional PCs exhibit a high potential for efficient light scattering,1,5 one-dimensional 共1D兲 PCs can be used as distributed Bragg reflectors with high optical reflectance共close to 100%兲.2,7A regular 1D PC is a periodiclike multilayer structure consisting of two alter-nating layers each with a different refractive index 共n1, n2兲 and thickness 关d1, d2; see inset in Fig. 1共a兲兴. Given that d1 ⬇␭0/4n1and d2⬇␭0/4n2共␭0—central light wavelength兲 for a distributed Bragg reflector, one can analytically calculate the reflectance R of a regular PC, using the following:

R =

n1 2m − n22m n12m+ n22m

2 , 共1兲

where m is the number of alternating-layer pairs共periods兲 in the PC structure and n1 and n2 are their refractive indices.1 The high reflectance that can be achieved if the number of periods and the ratio between n1and n2are sufficiently large refers to a limited wavelength interval around␭0. When ap-plying PC structures as back reflectors 共BRs兲 in thin-film silicon solar cells, it is required that this wavelength interval is very broad because it is only in this way that the entire light spectrum reaching the BR can be efficiently reflected back into the cell.

In this letter we introduce a concept of PCs, which we call modulated PCs, in solar cell applications for extending the interval of high reflectance over a much broader wave-length region than that obtained using a regular PC. In gen-eral, we apply the term “modulated PC” to PC structures, where either the thicknesses or the optical properties of the layers are adjusted 共modulated兲 across the structure to achieve the desired wavelength-selective reflectance or trans-mittance of the PC structure.

We propose a simple modulated PC for extending the region of high reflectance by altering the layer thicknesses

共period兲 in the PC structure. The resulting modulated struc-ture becomes a combination of two共regular兲 PC parts in our case—one 共light entrance side兲 with smaller layer thick-nesses and the other with larger thickthick-nesses关see inset in Fig. 1共c兲兴. The first part should assure the high reflectance of

a兲Electronic mail: marko.topic@fe.uni-lj.si.

Wavelength (nm) 600 800 1000 1200 1400 Re fle ct an ce 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 100 % Wavelength (nm) 600 800 1000 1200 1400 R ef lect ance 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 Wavelength (nm) 600 800 1000 1200 1400 R ef lect ance 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 100 % 100 % (a) (b) (c) PC_2 70/140 nm PC_1 part MODULATED PC PC_1 50/100 nm

FIG. 1. 共Color online兲 Reflectance of PC structures 共symbols - measured, lines - simulated兲 based on a-Si:H and a-SiNx: H layers deposited on a glass

substrate.共a兲 PC_1, 共b兲 PC_2, and 共c兲 modulated PC made of PC_1 and PC_2. The schematics of the PC structures, thicknesses of the layers

da-Si:H/da-SiNx:H, are given in the insets. APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS 94, 153501共2009兲

0003-6951/2009/94共15兲/153501/3/$25.00 94, 153501-1 © 2009 American Institute of Physics


short-wavelengths of light, while the second part should ex-hibit a high reflectance for longer wavelengths, thereby achieving a broadband reflectance.

The PC structures were designed and optimized using the 1D semicoherent optical simulator SUNSHINE.8 In simu-lations, both wavelength dependent refractive indices and the absorption coefficients of the actual layers were taken into consideration. The same simulator was then used to predict the characteristics of a microcrystalline silicon 共␮c-Si: H兲 solar cell with the modulated PC BR.

The test PC structures were fabricated using nonconduc-tive layers made from thin-film silicon technology: intrinsic a-Si: H and a-SiNx: H films. The films were deposited by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition, which allows the fabrication of a-Si: H/a-SiNx: H stacks in a continuous deposition run. The refractive indices of the layers were na-Si:H= 3.83 and na-SiNx= 1.81共at ␭=800 nm兲. The PC struc-tures were deposited on a glass substrate starting with the a-Si: H layer. Figures1共a兲and1共b兲 show the measured and simulated reflectance R of two regular PC structures共PC_1 and PC_2兲, which also later represent the first and the second part of the modulated PC. Both PC_1 and PC_2 comprise of six periods共12 layers兲 with layer thicknesses da-Si:H/da-SiN


of 50/100 and 70/140 nm, respectively. Such thicknesses as-sure a high reflectance of the shorter wavelengths 共in this case ␭=700–950 nm兲 by PC_1 and of the longer wave-lengths 共␭=800–1300 nm兲 by PC_2. Both the regular PC structures exhibit a high wavelength-selective reflectance 共close to 100%兲. Figure1共c兲shows the reflectance of the test modulated PC structure, combining PC_1 and PC_2 共6+6 periods, 24 layers兲. One can observe that the two regions of high reflectance that correspond to PC_1 and PC_2 are com-bined into a single broad region for the modulated PC struc-ture. Such extensive broadening cannot be achieved with a regular PC 共using the same layer materials兲, neither by in-creasing the number of periods nor by selecting alternative layer thicknesses. It is the modulated concept that enables materials, which do not have a large ratio of refractive indi-ces, to be used as broadband reflectors.

After demonstrating that the concept works, we designed a suitable modulated PC for a broadband BR for thin-film ␮c-Si solar cells. In this case, the reflector must also serve as a back electrical contact. Therefore, conductive layers, n-doped amorphous silicon共n-a-Si:H兲 and Al doped magne-tron sputtered ZnO 共ZnO:Al兲, were used. The refractive in-dices of these layers were nn-a-Si:H= 3.32 and nZnO:Al= 1.77 共␭=800 nm兲. First, two regular PCs 共PC_I and PC_II兲, were designed for covering short- and long-wavelength reflec-tance. At this stage both regular PCs consist of seven periods with thicknesses dn-a-Si:H/dZnO:Al of 40/80 and 60/120 nm, respectively. The effect of the BRs was investigated for the solar cell structure using the following configuration: glass substrate/ZnO: Al共700 nm兲/p-␮c-Si: H共10 nm兲/ i-␮c-Si: H共2 ␮m兲/n-a-Si:H共20 nm兲/PC BR. Flat inter-faces were assumed in the SunShine simulations共light scat-tering excluded兲. To demonstrate clearly the effect of the modulated PC BR and to avoid the pronounced interferences in the simulated external quantum efficiency 共EQE兲 of the solar cell, an incoherent propagation of light inside a 2 ␮m thick i-␮c-Si: H absorber layer was applied. Realistic com-plex refractive indices for all the layers were used in the simulations.9 To evaluate the actual reflectance of the BR

inside the cell’s structure, we calculated the internal reflec-tance with respect to the absorber layer and not with respect to air. Thus, the i-␮c-Si: H material was applied as the inci-dent medium in simulations to determine the reflectance properly.

Figure 2共a兲 shows the internal reflectance of the PC_I and PC_II. Particularly, PC_I and PC_II were designed to provide high reflectance in the regions␭=500–700 nm and ␭=700–1000 nm, respectively. We also consider the n-a-Si: H layer of the solar cell as the first layer of the PC BRs, although it was thinner共20 nm兲 than the optimal thick-nesses of n-a-Si: H layers in the PC_I 共40 nm兲 and PC_II 共60 nm兲. Our simulations suggest that a thinner first n-a-Si: H layer would be advantageous since absorption losses therein are lower. Nevertheless, losses in the n-a-Si: H and ZnO:Al layers are still present, especially at ␭ ⬍600 nm, and limits the internal reflectance performance of PC_I 共slopelike behavior of the R兲. However, the internal reflectance of the PC_II exhibits saturation at ⬃97%. The internal reflectance corresponding to an ideal BR 共R at the rear n-a-Si: H interface of the solar cell was set to 100%兲 and of a cell without a BR 共n-a-Si:H followed by air兲 are in-cluded in Fig. 2for the sake of comparison.

For␮c-Si: H solar cells, it is important that the BR has a high reflectivity over a much broader wavelength region 共␭⬇500–1100 nm兲, something that can be achieved neither by PC_I nor by PC_II nor by any other regular PC using the two conductive materials. To overcome this, we applied our design of a modulated PC structure based on PC_I and PC_II structures. In this design, only three periods 共not seven兲 of PC_I and four periods of PC_II were included in the modu-lated PC. Thus, the total number of periods in the modumodu-lated PC remains the same共seven兲 as in a regular PC in order to

Wavelength (nm) 400 600 800 1000 In te rnal Re fl ect a nce 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 Wavelength (nm) 400 600 800 1000 In te rnal R e fl e ct a n ce 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 PC_I 40/80 nm 7 periods ideal BR (R = 1) MODULATED PC: 3 periods of PC_I + 4 periods of PC_II without BR (air)



ideal BR (R = 1) PC_II 60/120 nm 7 periods

FIG. 2. 共Color online兲 Simulated internal reflectance from the rear part of the microcrystalline silicon solar cell共n-a-Si:H/PC BR兲 into the i-␮c-Si: H absorber layer:共a兲 regular PC_I and PC_II and 共b兲 modulated PC 共three periods of PC_I and four periods of PC_II兲. The PCs consist of conductive

n-a-Si: H and ZnO:Al layers. Simulated internal reflectance of the rear

structures with an ideal BR and without a BR共n-a-Si:H followed by air兲 are shown for comparison.

153501-2 Krc et al. Appl. Phys. Lett. 94, 153501共2009兲


justify the improvements related to the modulated PC with-out extending either the number of layers or deposition time. In Fig. 2共b兲, a high internal reflectance of the modu-lated PC is shown over the broad wavelength region ␭ = 500– 1000 nm. Some interference spikes are observed at wavelengths where pronounced minima are present in the reflectance of the regular PC_I and PC_II 关see Fig. 2共a兲兴. This is because the number of periods in the first and in the second part of the modulated PC is insufficient to compen-sate for the effect of deconstructive interferences, originating either from the first or second part of the PC; an almost perfect compensation was achieved for the modulated PC in Fig.1共c兲.

In Fig. 3共a兲 the simulated EQE is plotted for the cells that have regular PC_I and PC_II BRs. To determine the EQE from optical simulations we assume an ideal extraction of charge carriers from the i-␮c-Si: H absorber, which is the situation in actual state-of-the-art␮c-Si: H solar cells. While the EQE of the cell with the PC_I BR is lowered in the long-wavelength region 共␭⬎700 nm兲, the cell with the PC_II exhibits reduced EQE in the middle-wavelength re-gion共␭=500–700 nm兲. The corresponding short-circuit cur-rent densities JSC under reference solar irradiance AM1.5 reach 92.8% and 92.7% of the JSCcalculated for an ideal BR, respectively 关Fig.3共a兲兴.

Figure 3共b兲 shows the results obtained from the simu-lated EQE of the cell with the modusimu-lated PC. In this case, the EQE over the entire wavelength region resembles closely that of a cell with an ideal BR. The observed small devia-tions are related to the decreases in the internal reflectance 关Fig. 2共b兲兴. The cell with the modulated PC BR achieves 97.7% of the JSC of the cell with an ideal BR; this is an additional 5% increase with respect to regular PCs. This in-crease in the JSCleads to the same relative increase in con-version efficiency of the solar cell, given that the open-circuit voltage and the fill factor remain the same.

In summary, we propose using modulated PC structures as BRs in thin-film solar cells. The modulated PC structure exhibits a broadband high reflectance that opens up the pos-sibility for realizing not only highly reflective but also con-ductive PC BRs. Using materials from thin-film silicon pho-tovoltaic technology, the predicted EQE and JSC of a microcrystalline silicon cell with a modulated PC BR re-sembles closely that of a cell having an ideal BR.

This work was partially funded through the Slovenian Research Agency 共Project No. J2-0851兲 and the Dutch SenterNovem Agency共Project No. EOSLT04029兲.

1K. Sakoda, Optical Properties of Photonic Crystals, 2nd ed. 共Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2005兲.

2L. Zeng, Y. Yi, C. Hong, J. Liu, N. Feng, X. Duan, and L. C. Kimerling,

Appl. Phys. Lett. 89, 111111共2006兲.

3M. Florescu, H. Lee, I. Puscasu, M. Pralle, L. Florescu, D. Ting, and J. P. Dowling,Sol. Energy Mater. Sol. Cells 91, 1599共2007兲.

4F. Duerinckx, I. Kuzma-Filipek, K. Van Nieuvenhuysen, G. Beaucarne, and J. Poortmans,Prog. Photovoltaics 16, 399共2008兲.

5D. Zhou and R. Biswas,J. Appl. Phys. 103, 093102共2008兲.

6P. G. O’Brien, N. P. Kherani, A. Chutinan, G. A. Ozin, S. John, and S. Zukotynski,Adv. Mater.共Weinheim, Ger.兲 20, 1577共2008兲.

7J. Krc, M. Zeman, F. Smole, and M. Topic, Mater. Res. Soc. Symp. Proc.

910, A25共2006兲.

8J. Krc, F. Smole, and M. Topic,Prog. Photovoltaics 11, 15共2003兲. 9J. Springer, A. Poruba, and M. Vanecek,J. Appl. Phys. 96, 5329共2004兲. Wavelength (nm) 400 600 800 1000 EQ E 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 Wavelength (nm) 400 600 800 1000 E Q E 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0

cell with PC_II 16.18 mA/cm2 (92.7 %)

cell with PC_I 16.21 mA/cm2 (92.8 %)

cell with ideal BR (R = 1) 17.46 mA/cm2

cell with ideal BR (R = 1) 17.46 mA/cm2

cell with MODULATED PC 17.05 mA/cm2 (97.7 %)

cell without BR (air) 15.07 mA/cm2 (86.3 %)




FIG. 3. 共Color online兲 Simulated external quantum efficiency of a microc-rystalline silicon solar cell共flat interfaces兲 with 共a兲 regular PC_I and PC_II and共b兲 modulated PC BR. The corresponding short-circuit current densities are shown in the inset. The simulations for the cells with an ideal and without a BR are plotted for comparison.

153501-3 Krc et al. Appl. Phys. Lett. 94, 153501共2009兲


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