The Multiple Faces of Interfaces : Electron microscopy analysis of CuInSe2 thin-film solar cells

Abstract: The CIS solar cell family features both a high stability and world-class performances. They can be deposited on a wide variety of substrates and absorb the entire solar spectrum only using a thickness of a few micrometers. These particularities allow them to feature the most positive Energy returned on energy invested (EROI) values and the shortest Energy payback times (EPBT) of all the main photovoltaic solar cells. Using mainly electron microscopy characterization techniques, this thesis has explored the questions related to the interface control in thin-film photovoltaic solar cells based on CuInSe2 (CIS) absorber materials. Indeed, a better understanding of the interfaces is essential to further improve the solar cell conversion efficiency (currently around 23%), but also to introduce alternative substrates, to implement various alloying (Ga-CIS (CIGS), Ag-CIGS (ACIGS)…) or even to assess alternative buffer layers.The thread of this work is the understanding and the improvement of the interface control. To do so, the passivation potential of Al2O3 interlayers has been studied in one part of the thesis. While positive changes were generally measured, a subsequent analysis has revealed that a detrimental interaction could occur between the NaF precursor layer and the rear Al2O3 passivation layer. Still within the passivation research field, incorporation of various alkali-metals to the CIS absorber layer has been developed and analyzed. Large beneficial effects were ordinarily reported. However, similar KF-post deposition treatments were shown to be potentially detrimental for the silver-alloyed CIGS absorber layer. Finally, part of this work dealt with the limitations of the thin-barrier layers usually employed when using steel substrates instead of soda-lime glass ones. The defects and their origin could have been related to the steel manufacturing process, which offered solutions to erase them.Electron microscopy, especially Transmission electron microscopy (TEM), was essential to scrutinize the local changes occurring at the different interfaces within a few nanometers. The composition variation was measured with both Electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) and Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) techniques. Finally, efforts have been invested in controlling and improving the FIB sample preparation, which was required for the TEM observations in our case.