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This study investigates ultra-thin transparent conducting oxides (TCO) of indium tin oxide (ITO), aluminum- doped zinc oxide (AZO) and zinc oxide (ZnO) to determine their viability as candidate materials for use in plasmonic-enhanced thin-film amorphous silicon solar photovoltaic (PV) devices. First a sensitivity analysis of the optical absorption for the intrinsic layer of a nano-disk patterned thin-film amorphous silicon-based solar cell as a function of TCO thickness (10–50 nm) was performed by simulation. These simulation results were then used to guide the design of the experimental work which investigated both optical and electrical properties of ultra-thin (10 nm on average) films simultaneously deposited on both glass and silicon substrates using conventional rf sputtering. The effects of deposition and post-processing parameters on material properties of ITO, AZO and ZnO ultrathin TCOs were probed and the suitability of TCOs for integration into plasmonic-enhanced thin-film solar PV devices was assessed. The results show that ultra-thin TCOs present a number of challenges for use as thin top contacts on plasmonic-enhanced PV devices: (1) optical and electrical parameters differ greatly from those of thicker (bulk) films deposited under the same conditions, (2) the films are delicate due to their thickness, requiring very long annealing times to prevent cracking, and (3) reactive gases require careful monitoring to maintain stoichiometry. The results presented here found a trade-off between conductivity and transparency of the deposited films. Although the sub 50 nm TCO films investigated exhibited desirable optical properties (transmittance greater than 80 %), their resistivity was too high to be considered as materials for the top contact of conventional PV devices. Future work is necessary to improve thin TCO properties, or alternative materials, and geometries are needed in plasmonic-based amorphous silicon solar cells. The stability of ultra-thin TCO films also needs to be experimentally investigated under normal device operating conditions.

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© 2015 by the authors. This article is published with open access at Deposited here in compliance with publisher policies. Publisher's version of record: 10.1007/s40243-015-0055-8


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