Development of non-vacuum and low-cost techniques for Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 thin film solar cell processing
thesisposted on 22.01.2010 by Christopher J. Hibberd
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Solar photovoltaic modules provide clean electricity from sunlight but will not be able to compete on an open market until the cost of the electricity they produce is comparable to that produced by traditional methods. At present, modules based on crystalline silicon wafer solar cells account for nearly 90% of photovoltaic production capacity. However, it is anticipated that the ultimate cost reduction achievable for crystalline silicon solar cell production will be somewhat limited and that thin film solar cells may offer a cheaper alternative in the long term. The highest energy conversion efficiencies reported for thin film solar cells have been for devices based around chalcopyrite Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 photovoltaic absorbers. The most efficient Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 solar cells contain absorber layers deposited by vacuum co-evaporation of the elements. However, the cost of ownership of large area vacuum evaporation technology is high and may be a limiting factor in the cost reductions achievable for Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 based solar cells. Therefore, many alternative deposition methods are under investigation. Despite almost thirty companies being in the process of commercialising these technologies there is no consensus as to which deposition method will lead to the most cost effective product. Non-vacuum deposition techniques involving powders and chemical solutions potentially offer significant reductions in the cost of Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 absorber layer deposition as compared to their vacuum counterparts. A wide range of such approaches has been investigated for thirty years and the gap between the world record Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 solar cell and the best devices containing non-vacuum deposited absorber layers has closed significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, no one technique has demonstrated its superiority and the best results are still achieved with some of the most complex approaches. The work presented here involved the development and investigation of a new process for performing one of the stages of non-vacuum deposition of Cu(In, Ga)(Se, S)2 absorber layers. The new process incorporates copper into an initial Group III-VI precursor layer, e.g. indium gallium selenide, through an ion exchange reaction performed in solution. The ion exchange reaction requires only very simple, low-cost equipment and proceeds at temperatures over 1000°C lower than required for the evaporation of Cu under vacuum. In the new process, indium (gallium) selenide initial precursor layers are immersed in solutions containing Cu ions. During immersion an exchange reaction occurs and Cu ions from the solution exchange places with Group III ions in the layer. This leads to the formation of an intimately bonded, laterally homogeneous copper selenide – indium (gallium) selenide modified precursor layer with the same morphology as the initial precursor. These modified precursor layers were converted to single phase chalcopyrite CuInSe2 and Cu(In, Ga)Se2 by annealing with Se in a tube furnace system. Investigation of the annealing treatment revealed that a series of phase transformations, beginning at low temperature, lead to chalcopyrite formation. Control of the timing of the Se supply was demonstrated to prevent reactions that were deemed detrimental to the morphology of the resulting chalcopyrite layers. When vacuum evaporated indium (gallium) selenide layers were used as initial precursors, solar cells produced from the absorber layers exhibited energy conversion efficiencies of up to 4%. While these results are considered promising, the devices were characterised by very low open circuit voltages and parallel resistances. Rapid thermal processing was applied to the modified precursor layers in an attempt to further improve their conversion into chalcopyrite material. Despite only a small number of solar cells being fabricated using rapid thermal processing, improvements in open circuit voltage of close to 150mV were achieved. However, due to increases in series resistance and reductions in current collection only small increases in solar cell efficiency were recorded. Rapid thermal processing was also used to demonstrate synthesis of single phase CuInS2 from modified precursor layers based on non-vacuum deposited indium sulphide. Non-vacuum deposition methods provide many opportunities for the incorporation of undesirable impurities into the deposited layers. Analysis of the precursor layers developed during this work revealed that alkali atoms from the complexant used in the ion exchange baths are incorporated into the precursor layers alongside the Cu. Alkali atoms exhibit pronounced electronic and structural effects on Cu(In, Ga)Se2 layers and are beneficial in low concentrations. However, excess alkali atoms are detrimental to Cu(In, Ga)Se2 solar cell performance and the problems encountered with cells produced here are consistent with the effects reported in the literature for excess alkali incorporation. It is therefore expected that further improvements in solar cell efficiency might be achieved following reformulation of the ion exchange bath chemistry.
- Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering