Hydrogen Transport from Dielectrics to poly-Si/SiOx Passivating Contacts Measured by Mass Spectrometry and Vibrational Spectroscopy

Matthew Hartenstein, Sumit Agarwal, William Nemeth, Matthew Page, David Young, Paul Stradins

Research output: NRELPresentation


We demonstrate the relationship between Si solar cell passivation and hydrogen content of various passivating films, including hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H), aluminum oxide (Al2O3), silicon nitride (SiNx) and combinations thereof. Through isotopic studies using quadrupole mass spectrometry (QMS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman spectroscopy, we determine how hydrogen content and stability within each type of film relates to final passivation quality of solar cell test structures. Si solar cells using polycrystalline silicon on silicon oxide (poly-Si/SiOx) passivating contacts are at the forefront of Si solar cell research and emerging as top performers within industrial production. Performance of passivating contact Si solar cells is largely determined by a parameter known as the open-circuit voltage Voc, which directly relates to material quality within the bulk of the device and at surfaces. High Voc is achieved when defects within the bulk crystalline silicon (c-Si) and at interfaces are passivated, preventing them from acting as charge carrier recombination centers. One of the most important means of passivating defects within Si solar cells is via hydrogenation, injecting the cells with large amounts of H to satisfy dangling bonds in the bulk and at interfaces. Hydrogen is especially important in deactivating a prevalent defect in industrial p-type devices which leads to decreased device performance over long-term exposure to light, called light-induced degradation (LID). Some of the most common materials used to supply H to devices are a-Si:H, Al2O3, and SiNx, which can contain very large amounts of H. Upon annealing at elevated temperatures, the hydrogen becomes mobile enough to find and disable defect sites. However, too much hydrogen can also be problematic, sometimes leading to an effect called light and elevated temperature induced degradation (LeTID). It has been shown that these films passivate the interfaces of poly-Si passivating contacts differently, leading to differing performance. Though Al2O3 is a well-defined dielectric material, SiNx can have many different values of x depending on precursor gases and deposition conditions. We observe different FTIR and Raman spectra from different SiNx over a range of x values films to determine the bonding environments within them and further correlate the relative concentrations of Si, N, and H to the stability of H within SiNx and the passivation performance of each film. Because deuterium is chemically identical to hydrogen within these systems, but gives different signals in FTIR and Raman spectroscopy as well as in QMS, isotopic substitution can be used as an excellent tool to probe the H within films. In addition to measuring the H and D bonding within films using FTIR and Raman spectroscopy, we will use such isotopic experiments to observe H and D movement out of these hydrogenating films at elevated temperatures using QMS to determine the stability of H bonding within such systems. With these films characterized based on elemental composition, we will relate such measurements to passivation quality of these films and combinations thereof on poly-Si/SiOx contact structures using quasi-steady state photoconductance decay measurements to obtain implied open-circuit voltage (iVoc) and saturation current density J0 values. Such investigations into the performance of different passivating films and film stacks will lead to greater understanding of dielectrics in semiconductor devices, further improvements in passivated contact design, and eventually, greater proliferation of renewable solar energy worldwide.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the MRS Spring Meeting, 8-13 May 2022, Honolulu, Hawaii

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5900-82228


  • Al2O3
  • dielectric
  • LeTID
  • passivating
  • photovoltaic
  • PV


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