Wafer-scale growth of silicon microwire arrays for photovoltaics
Silicon microwire arrays have recently demonstrated their potential for low cost, high efficiency photovoltaics. These high aspect ratio, radial junction wire arrays allow for the absorption of nearly all the incident sunlight while enabling efficient carrier extraction in the radial direction. One of the remaining challenges to make this technology commercially viable is scaling up of the microwire array growth. We discuss here a technique we have developed for vapor liquid solid growth of microwire arrays over full six-inch wafers using a cold-wall RF-heated chemical vapor deposition furnace. This geometry allows for fairly uniform growth over large areas, rapid cycle time, and improved run-to-run reproducibility. We have studied these large-area microwire arrays using scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy to assess their structural fidelity and uniformity. We have also developed a technique to embed these large-area arrays in polymer and peel them off the substrate, which could enable lightweight, flexible solar cells with efficiencies as high as crystalline Si solar cells. We have tested the energy conversion properties of these microwire array samples grown using a liquid junction contact and a photoelectrochemical cell. Initial efficiencies measured in this way suggest that the material quality of these microwire arrays is similar to earlier small-area wire arrays that we have grown, meaning that this technique is a viable way to scale up microwire array devices.