A Simple Optical Model Well Explains Plasmonic-Nanoparticle-Enhanced Spectral Photocurrent in Optically Thin Solar Cells
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A simple optical model for photocurrent enhancement by plasmonic metal nanoparticles atop solar cells has been developed. Our model deals with the absorption, reflection, and scattering of incident sunlight as well as radiation efficiencies on metallic nanoparticles. Our calculation results satisfactorily reproduce a series of experimental spectral data for optically thin GaAs solar cells with Ag and Al nanoparticles of various dimensions, demonstrating the validity of our modeling approach. Our model is likely to be a powerful tool for investigations of surface plasmon-enhanced thin-film solar cells.
KeywordsGaAs Solar Cell Metal Nanoparticles Radiation Efficiency Complex Dielectric Function
Solar cell structures have been suffering from the following trade-off related to the thickness of their active photovoltaic layers: thinner photovoltaic layers exhibit weaker light absorption while thicker layers exhibit stronger bulk carrier recombination. Both of these factors yield conversion loss of the incident sunlight energy to the solar cell electrical output. Therefore, the thickness of the active photovoltaic layer is usually optimized for maximizing the energy conversion efficiency by considering the above trade-off. Metal nanoparticles placed on the solar cell surface can enhance sunlight collection, owing to their large extinction cross-section near the surface plasmon resonance, which is dominated by scattering rather than by absorption for appropriately chosen particle sizes [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Thus, metal nanoparticles scatter the incident light into a wide range of angles and increase the optical path length in the absorber layer for enhancing overall photoabsorption. This effect can potentially allow to reduce the cell cost and weight by utilization of thinner absorber layers and can also yield efficiency enhancement associated with an increased carrier excitation level. We previously experimentally investigated the effect of arrays of subwavelength-sized metal particles on GaAs solar cell absorption and photocurrent . Spectral response measurements for optically thin GaAs solar cells, in which the photovoltaic active layer is much thinner than the optical absorptive decay length, were performed with and without Ag and Al metal nanoparticles; short circuit current and efficiency enhancement were observed under the air mass 1.5 global solar spectrum for GaAs cells with metal nanoparticle arrays, relative to reference GaAs cells with no metal nanoparticles.
Research groups have been primarily using the laborious finite-difference time-domain calculations to analyze or design surface plasmon-enhanced solar cells. However, such monochromatic, three-dimensional time-domain calculations are time-consuming, typically requiring more than several tens of hours of calculation by relatively powerful computers, even for a single wavelength of incident sunlight. In the present work, we propose and demonstrate a simple numerical simulation scheme for obtaining photocurrent enhancement spectra of plasmonic solar cells, which enables obtaining instant results for the entire sunlight spectrum, for providing future directions for device improvement. We demonstrate that our computational scheme is quite simple yet satisfactorily reproduces the experimental results for the photocurrent enhancement in solar cells with metal nanoparticle surface decorations.
Note that a, b, and c are the outer radii of the spheroid or the core radii. To compare with the experimental photocurrent enhancement data, we considered the ratio of the absorbance from Eq. 4 to the absorbance without nanoparticles. In this study, we assumed that the absorption enhancement in the photovoltaic active layer of a cell with metal nanoparticles relative to a reference cell without metal nanoparticles represents the photocurrent enhancement.
Results and Discussion
out of the angular distribution of the light intensity scattered by subwavelength-sized particles in the quasistatic limit shown in Eq. 2, accounting for the waveguide-mode coupling from the total internal reflection. Such a simple modification of the formalism in our calculation enables to test a completely novel device structure, which demonstrates another capability of our model, namely its flexibility and extensibility. Thus, in Fig. 16, we show a significantly higher photocurrent enhancement by adopting such a waveguide-like photovoltaic layer structure and converting the incident sunlight into waveguide optical modes owing to the scattering induced by the metal nanoparticles, which indicates a great potential for the future development of plasmon-enhanced solar cells. Note also that the presently investigated scheme for utilization of optical waveguide modes differs from another enhancement scheme for utilization of surface plasmon modes  by coupling the incident light into surface plasmon polaritons propagating at semiconductor/metal interfaces via some subwavelength-sized features such as nanoscale grooves [30, 31, 32, 33].
In this work, we developed a relatively simple optical model for photocurrent enhancement by plasmonic metal nanoparticles atop solar cells. Our model considers the absorption, reflection, and scattering of the incident sunlight as well as the radiation efficiencies on metallic nanoparticles. Our calculation results satisfactorily reproduce a series of experimental spectral data in  for optically thin GaAs solar cells with Ag and Al nanoparticles of various dimensions, demonstrating the validity of our modeling scheme. We fitted our model calculations for the experimental results of GaAs solar cells in this study, but needless to say, our highly generalized model presented in this study is applicable for any kind of photovoltaic material. Our model can be used as a powerful tool for investigations of surface plasmon-enhanced thin-film solar cells to provide design principles for the improvement of device performance.
We thank Harry A. Atwater of the California Institute of Technology and Keisuke Nakayama of the JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corporation for discussions. This work was partially supported by JSPS, MEXT, and NEDO.
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