Metrology of Al2O3 Barrier Film for Flexible CIGS Solar Cells

Metrology of Al2O3 Barrier Film for Flexible CIGS Solar Cells

Mohamed Elrawemi (Mechanical Engineering Department, Almergheb University, Alkhoms, Libya and Centre for Precision Technologies, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK), Liam Blunt (Centre for Precision Technologies, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK), Leigh Fleming (Centre for Precision Technologies, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK), Francis Sweeney (Centre for Precision Technologies, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK), David Robbins (Centre for Process Innovation Limited, Durham, UK) and David Bird (Centre for Process Innovation Limited, Durham, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJEOE.2015100104


Flexible Cu (In, Ga) Se2 (CIGS) solar cells are very attractive renewable energy sources because of their high conversion efficiencies, their low cost potential and their many application possibilities. However, they are at present highly susceptible to long term environmental degradation as a result of water vapor ingress through the protective encapsulation layer to the absorber (CIGS) layer. The basic methodology to prevent the water vapor permeation is to combine an oxide layer (e.g. AlOx) coating with suitable polymer substrates. Nevertheless, micro and nano-scale defects can appear at any stage of the coating process thus affecting the module efficiency and lifespan. The main aim of this research paper is to use surface metrology techniques including: White Light Scanning Interferometry (WLSI), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy (ESEM) to characterise the aluminum oxide (Al2O3) barrier film defects, which appear to be directly responsible for the water vapor permeability. This paper reports on the development of a characterisation method for defect detection based on “Wolf Pruning” method and then correlates this with measured water vapor transmission rates (WVTRs) using standard MOCON® test. The results presented in this paper provided a detailed knowledge of the nature of micro and nano-scale defects on the Al2O3 barrier films which are responsible for water vapor and oxygen ingress. This result can then be used to provide the basis for developing roll-to-roll in process metrology devices for quality control of flexible PV module manufacture.
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1. Introduction

In today’s industry, the most common type of solar photovoltaic (PV) cell is fabricated from either crystalline silicon or thin-film materials (P. F. Carcia, R. S. McLean, & S. Hegedus, 2010). The rigid construction of Si solar cells hampers their economic integration into residential and commercial buildings; however, thin film solar cell technologies may prove to be most appropriate with respect to cost and ease of manufacture, and it is anticipated that the next generation of photovoltaic devices will be based entirely on thin film technologies. These cells are based on the material CuIn1-xGaxSe2 (CIGS) as the absorber layer (p-type) and they are the most efficient cells at present (Igalson & Urbaniak, 2005). The key weakness of these cells is their moisture sensitivity. This is critical problem if this technology is to meet the requirements of international standard IEC61646, which requires that all PV modules survive 1000 hours in an environment of 85 Cº and 85% relative humidity(IEC61646-2, 2008). Cost effective encapsulation facilitating stable outdoor performance for more than 20 years is still a challenge. The only cost-effective encapsulation possibility for long term stability available at the moment is to use rigid glass, where all benefits of flexibility and lightweight disappear (BrÃ, 2009). Therefore, a robust, transparent flexible encapsulation method for CIGS PV cells is needed. Meeting these requirements is a major concern for the manufacture of thin film CIGS cells.

1.1. Flexible PV Modules

Flexible solar modules comprise four functional layer groupings as shown in Figure 1. The main focus of the investigation in this paper is the barrier layer which is incorporated in the encapsulation layers. This layer is typically formed from a planarised Polyethylene Naphthalate (PEN) sheet with an amorphous Al2O3 barrier coating < 50 nm thick. The Al2O3 barrier coating is produced by Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD). This technique is a controlled layer-by-layer deposition that enables the deposition of thin, smooth, and highly conformal films with atomic layer precision and typical thickness ranges between 1 and 100 nm (S. M. George, 2009).

Figure 1.

Schematic of the flexible PV module (Courtesy of Flisom, Switzerland)

2. Polyethylene-Naphthalate And Aluminum-Oxide Properties

Polymer materials such as polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) consist of long straight-chain polymer molecules with weak chemical interaction between the chains. The molecular building block for PEN chains is shown in Figure 2. Therefore, small molecules such as water vapor and oxygen can diffuse around the material chains. Although polymers have strong covalent bonds (short range) along the chains, they have weaker (long range) bonding between chains (Ayache, Beaunier, Boumendil, Ehret, & Laub, 2010).

Figure 2.

Structure of Polyethylene Naphthalate -PEN (Hansen, Myers, & Osakada, 1998)

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