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Nanoscale Surface and Interface Characterization of Earth-Abundant Thin-Film Solar Cells


Thin-film kesterites have been explored as promising absorbers in future photovoltaic devices due to their earth-abundant and non-toxic constituents, which do not impose any future production limitations. However, the current record conversion efficiency of polycrystalline kesterite devices is 12.6%—i.e., at least 2.4% short of the efficiency threshold needed to make this material competitive with chalcogenide-based thin film technologies. This shortage in conversion efficiency has been in part ascribed to the large extent of carrier recombination by defects at the grain boundaries and contact/absorber interfaces.

In this work, methods nanoscale compositional and electrical characterization of grain boundaries and contact/absorber interfaces in kesterite solar cells have been developed, using a unique combination of advanced nano-characterization tools including Auger Nanoprobe Microscopy (NanoAuger), Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy (KPFM) and Cryogenic Focused Ion Beam (Cryo-FIB).

NanoAuger and KPFM measurements on high-performance CZTSSe thin film PV devices revealed that the presence of SnOx at the grain boundaries is essential to the high VOC. This passivation layer needs to be formed by an air anneal process performed after the film deposition. In contrast to the oxide at the grain boundary, oxide layer on the top surfaces of the grains has been found to be (Sn,Zn),O. A new cross-sectioning method via grazing angle of incidence Cryo-FIB milling, has been developed where smooth cross-sections with at least 10x scale expansion have been prepared. These surfaces were characterized for CIGSe monitor films confirming the presence of MoSe2 interlayer acting as a proper hole contact on the back surface.

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