thin-film solar cells, transmission electron microscopy, optical beam induced current


Thin-film solar cells are potentially low-cost devices to convert sunlight into electricity. Improvements in the conversion efficiencies of these cells reduce material utilization cost and make it commercially viable. Solar cells from the Thin-Film Physics Group, ETH Zurich, Switzerland and the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), UCF were characterized for defects and other microstructural features within the thin-film structure and at the interfaces using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The present thesis aims to provide a feedback to these groups on their deposition processes to understand the correlations between processing, resulting microstructures, and the conversion efficiencies of these devices. Also, an optical equipment measuring photocurrents from a solar cell was developed for the identification of defect-prone regions of a thin-film solar cell. The focused ion beam (FIB) technique was used to prepare TEM samples. Bright-field TEM along with scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) including elemental distribution line scans and maps were extensively used for characterizing the absorber layer and interfaces both above and below the absorber layer. Energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy (EFTEM) was applied in cases where EDS results were inconclusive due to the overlap of X-ray energies of certain elements, especially molybdenum and sulfur. Samples from ETH Zurich were characterized for changes in the CIGS (Cu(In,Ga)Se2) microstructure due to sodium incorporation from soda-lime glass or from a post-deposition treatment with NaF as a function of CIGS deposition temperature. The CIGS-CdS interface becomes smoother and the small columnar CIGS grains close to the Mo back contact disappear with increasing CIGS deposition temperature. At 773 K the two sodium incorporation routes result in large differences in the microstructures with a significantly larger grain size for the samples after post-deposition Na incorporation. Porosity was observed in the absorber layer close to the back contact in the samples from FSEC. The reason for porosity could be materials evaporation in the gallium beam of the FIB or a processing effect. The porosity certainly indicates heterogeneities of the composition of the absorber layer near the back contact. A Mo-Se rich layer (possibly MoSe2) was formed at the interface between CIGS/CIGSS and Mo improving the quality of the junction. Other chemical heterogeneities include un-sulfurized Cu-Ga deposits, residual Se from the selenization/ sulfurization chamber in CIGS2 and the formation of Cu-rich regions which are attributed to decomposition effects in the Ga beam of the FIB. Wavy absorber surfaces were observed for some of the cells with occasional discontinuities in the metal grids. The 50 nm thick CdS layer, however, remained continuous in all the samples under investigation. For a sample with a transparent back contact, a 10 nm Mo layer was deposited on ITO (indium tin oxide) before deposition of the CIGS2 (Cu(In,Ga)S2) layer. EFTEM maps indicate that a MoS2 layer does not form for such a Mo/MoS2-ITO back contact. Instead, absorber layer material diffuses through the thin Mo layer onto the ITO forming two layers of CIGS2 on either side of Mo with different compositions. Furthermore, an optical beam induced current (OBIC) system with micron level resolution was successfully developed and preliminary photocurrent maps were acquired to microscopically identify regions within a thin-film solar cell with undesirable microstructural features. Such a system, when fully operational, will provide the means for the identification of special regions from where samples for TEM analysis can be obtained using the FIB technique to study specifically the defects responsible for local variations in solar cell properties.


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Graduation Date





Heinrich, Helge


Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering (M.S.M.S.E.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering;

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering








Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)