Cross-Sectional Electrostatic Force Microscopy of Thin-Film Solar Cells

C. Ballif, H. R. Moutinho, M. M. Al-Jassim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus Citations


In a recent work, we showed that atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a powerful technique to image cross sections of polycrystalline thin films. In this work, we apply a modification of AFM, namely, electrostatic force microscopy (EFM), to investigate the electronic properties of cleaved II-VI and multijunction thin-film solar cells. We cleave the devices in such a way that they are still working with their nominal photovoltaic efficiencies and can be polarized for the measurements. This allows us to differentiate between surface effects (work function and surface band bending) and bulk device properties. In the case of polycrystalline CdTe/CdS/SnO2 /glass solar cells, we find a drop of the EFM signal in the area of the CdTe/CdS interface (±50 nm). This drop varies in amplitude and sign according to the applied external bias and is compatible with an n-CdS/p-CdTe heterojunction model, thereby invalidating the possibility of a deeply buried n-p CdTe homojunction. In the case of a triple-junction GalnP/GaAs/Ge device, we observe a variation of the EFM signal linked to both the material work-function differences and to the voltage bias applied to the cell. We attempt a qualitative explanation of the results and discuss the implications and difficulties of the EFM technique for the study of such thin-film devices.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1418-1424
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-520-28544


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