Polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si) has become popular in recent years as a candidate for low cost, high efficiency thin film solar cells. The possibility to combine the stability against light degradation and electronic properties approaching melt-grown, wafer-based crystallline silicon, with the cost advantage of Silicon thin films is highly attractive. To fully realize this goal, efforts have been focused on maximizing grain size while reducing the thermal input involved in a critical ``annealing'' step. Of the variety of processes involved in this effort, studies have shown that poly-Si films obtained from solid-phase-crystallization (SPC) of hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H), grown from non-thermal plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD), exhibit the potential to achieve the highest quality grain structures. However, reproducible control of grain size has proven difficult, with larger grains typically requiring longer annealing times. In this work, a novel technique is demonstrated for more effectively controlling the final grain structure of SPC-processed films while simultaneously reducing annealing times. The process utilized involves SPC of a-Si:H thin films containing embedded nanocrystallites, intended to serve as predetermined grain-growth sites, or grain-growth ``seeds'', during the annealing process. Films were produced by PECVD with a system in which two plasmas were operated to produce crystallites and amorphous films separately. This approach allows crystallite synthesis conditions to be tuned independently from a-Si:H film synthesis conditions, providing a large parameter space available for process optimization, including the effects of particle size, shape, quantity, and location within the film. The work contained here-in outlines the effects of select parameters on the both grain size control and thermal budget. Reproducible control of both grain size and crystallization rate were demonstrated through varying initial seed crystal concentrations. Significant reductions in annealing times were demonstrated to occur in seeded films relative to unseeded films, with both seed crystal concentration and seed crystal geometry demonstrating significant effects on crystallization rate. Furthermore, the development of this technique has resulted in potentially new insights on the material system involved, with the observation of a potentially unique phase-transformation mechanism.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2013. Major: Mechanical Engineering. Advisor: Uwe Kortshagen. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 119 pages.
Enhanced crystallization of amorphous silicon thin films by nano-crystallite seeding.
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