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The performance of polycrystalline CdTe photovoltaic thin films is expected to depend on the grain boundary density and corresponding grain size of the film microstructure. However, the electrical performance of grain boundaries within these films is not well understood, and can be beneficial, harmful, or neutral in terms of film performance. Electron backscatter diffraction has been used to characterize the grain size, grain boundary structure, and crystallographic texture of sputtered CdTe at varying deposition pressures before and after CdCl2 treatment in order to correlate performance with microstructure. Weak fiber textures were observed in the as-deposited films, with (111) textures present at lower deposition pressures and (110) textures observed at higher deposition pressures. The CdCl2-treated samples exhibited significant grain recrystallization with a high fraction of twin boundaries. Good correlation of solar cell efficiency was observed with twin-corrected grain size while poor correlation was found if the twin boundaries were considered as grain boundaries in the grain size determination. This implies that the twin boundaries are neutral with respect to recombination and carrier transport.
CdTe is well known as an excellent photovoltaic material for high efficiency solar cell applications because it has a direct band-gap, low fabrication cost and high optical absorption coefficient. However, the nonradiative recombination and low average minority carrier lifetime caused by the defects in CdTe solar cells limit its efficiency. So far, grain boundaries (GB) have been considered to be the major origin of the nonradiative recombination. However, we show that CdTe grains contain many dislocations that could limit device efficiency. Scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) was used to determine the atomic structure of intrinsic and extrinsic stacking faults and their terminating partial dislocation cores. Z-contrast images are sensitive to atomic number and are able to distinguish Cd and Te atomic columns. Unpaired Cd and Te atomic columns were found to form the partial dislocation cores, suggesting the presence of dangling bonds. These defects are likely to be electrically active, and may be the origin of the low minority carrier lifetime.
Solar cells fabricated from a sputtering target with 5% cadmium sulfide (CdS) intermixed cadmium telluride (CdTe) material was studied using Capacitance-Voltage (CV) profiling. The average efficiency of a set of these novel solar cells under one sun illumination was observed to be 7.56%. In contrast with standard sputtered CdS/CdTe cells, the junction capacitance of the mixed compound device was observed to show minimal change in the entire reverse bias range. The element mapping of the film using Bright Field Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy (BF-STEM) was used to determine the distribution of S, Te, Cd, O, and Cl in CdTe film. From these observations, it is believed that the morphology and composition of the film resulted in a built-in potential which was sufficient to completely deplete the film.
In this study, 1 μm thick polycrystalline CdTe films were deposited by magnetron sputtering using a variable argon pressure, 2.5 ≤ pAr ≤ 50 mTorr, and a fixed substrate temperature, Ts = 230°C. Real time spectroscopic ellipsometry (RTSE) was performed during deposition in order to analyze the nucleation and coalescence, as well as the evolution of the surface roughness thickness ds with bulk layer thickness db and the depth profile in the void volume fraction fv. A linear correlation was found between the final ds value measured by RTSE at the end of deposition and the root-mean-square (rms) surface roughness measured by atomic force microscopy (AFM) ex situ after deposition. A monotonic decrease in RTSE-determined roughness thickness is observed with decreasing Ar pressure from 18 to 2.5 mTorr. The lowest pressure also leads to the greatest bulk layer structural uniformity; in this case, fv increases to 0.04 with increasing CdTe thickness to 1 μm. The photovoltaic performance of CdTe films prepared with the lowest pressure of pAr = 2.5 mTorr is compared with that of previously optimized CdTe solar cells with pAr = 10 mTorr.
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