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Ha, Dongheon
Munday, Jeremy N.
In order to power our planet for the next century, clean energy technologies need to be developed and deployed. Photovoltaic solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity, are a clear option; however, they currently supply 0.1% of the US electricity due to the relatively high cost per Watt of generation. Thus, our goal is to create more power from a photovoltaic device, while simultaneously reducing its price. To accomplish this goal, we are creating new high efficiency anti-reflection coatings that allow more of the incident sunlight to be converted to electricity, using simple and inexpensive coating techniques that enable reduced manufacturing costs. Traditional anti-reflection coatings (consisting of thin layers of non-absorbing materials) rely on the destructive interference of the reflected light, causing more light to enter the device and subsequently get absorbed. While these coatings are used on nearly all commercial cells, they are wavelength dependent and are deposited using expensive processes that require elevated temperatures, which increase production cost and can be detrimental to some temperature sensitive solar cell materials. We are developing two new classes of anti-reflection coatings (ARCs) based on textured dielectric materials: (i) a transparent, flexible paper technology that relies on optical scattering and reduced refractive index contrast between the air and semiconductor and (ii) silicon dioxide (SiO2) nanosphere arrays that rely on collective optical resonances. Both techniques improve solar cell absorption and ultimately yield high efficiency, low cost devices. For the transparent paper-based ARCs, we have recently shown that they improve solar cell efficiencies for all angles of incident illumination reducing the need for costly tracking of the sun’s position. For a GaAs solar cell, we achieved a 24% improvement in the power conversion efficiency using this simple coating. Because the transparent paper is made from an earth abundant material (wood pulp) using an easy, inexpensive and scalable process, this type of ARC is an excellent candidate for future solar technologies. The coatings based on arrays of dielectric nanospheres also show excellent potential for inexpensive, high efficiency solar cells. The fabrication process is based on a Meyer rod rolling technique, which can be performed at room-temperature and applied to mass production, yielding a scalable and inexpensive manufacturing process. The deposited monolayer of SiO2 nanospheres, having a diameter of 500 nm on a bare Si wafer, leads to a significant increase in light absorption and a higher expected current density based on initial simulations, on the order of 15-20%. With application on a Si solar cell containing a traditional anti-reflection coating (Si3N4 thin-film), an additional increase in the spectral current density is observed, 5% beyond what a typical commercial device would achieve. Due to the coupling between the spheres originated from Whispering Gallery Modes (WGMs) inside each nanosphere, the incident light is strongly coupled into the high-index absorbing material, leading to increased light absorption. Furthermore, the SiO2 nanospheres scatter and diffract light in such a way that both the optical and electrical properties of the device have little dependence on incident angle, eliminating the need for solar tracking. Because the layer can be made with an easy, inexpensive, and scalable process, this anti-reflection coating is also an excellent candidate for replacing conventional technologies relying on complicated and expensive processes.