Buried Contact Solar Cells

The buried contact solar cell is a high efficiency commercial solar cell technology based on a plated metal contact inside a laser-formed groove. The buried contact technology overcomes many of the disadvantages associated with screen-printed contacts and this allows buried contact solar cell to have performance up to 25% better than commercial screen-printed solar cells. A schematic of a buried contact solar cell is shown in the figure below.

Cross-section of Laser Grooved, Buried Contact Solar Cell.

A key high efficiency feature of the buried contact solar cell is that the metal is buried in a laser-formed groove inside the silicon solar cell. This allows for a large metal height-to-width aspect ratio. A large metal contact aspect ratio in turn allows a large volume of metal to be used in the contact finger, without having a wide strip of metal on the top surface. Therefore, a high metal aspect ratio allows a large number of closely spaced metal fingers, while still retaining a high transparency. For example, on a large area device, a screen printed solar cell may have shading losses as high as 10 to 15%, while in a buried contact structure, the shading losses will only be 2 to 3%. These lower shading losses allow low reflection and therefore higher short-circuit currents.

Cross section of a partially plated laser groove.

In addition to good reflection properties, the buried contact technology also allows low parasitic resistance losses due to its high metal aspect ratio, its fine finger spacing and its plated metal for the contacts. As shown in the Emitter Resistance page, the emitter resistance is reduced in a buried contact solar cell since a narrower finger spacing dramatically reduces the emitter resistance losses. The metal grid resistance is also low since the finger resistance is reduced by the large volume of metal in the grooves and by the use of copper, which has a lower resistivity than the metal paste used in screen printing. As well, the contact resistance of a buried contact solar cell is lower than that in screen printed solar cells due to the formation of a nickel silicide at the semiconductor-metal interface and the large metal-silicon contact area. Overall, these reduced resistive losses allow large area solar cells with high FFs.

When compared to a screen-printed cell, the metalization scheme of a buried contact solar cell also improves the cell's emitter. To minimise resistive losses, the emitter region of a screen-printed solar cell is very heavily doped and results in a "dead" layer at the surface of the solar cell. Since emitter losses are low in a buried contact structure, the emitter doping can be optimized for high open-circuit voltages and short-circuit currents. Furthermore, a buried contact structure includes a self-aligned, selective emitter, which thereby reduces the contact recombination and also contributes to high open-circuit voltages.

The efficiency advantages of buried contact technology provide significant cost and performance benefits. In terms of $/W, the cost of a buried contact solar cell is the same as a screen-printed solar cell [1]. However, due to the inclusion of certain area-related costs as well as fixed costs in a PV system, a higher efficiency solar cell technology results in lower cost electricity. An additional advantage of buried contact technology is that it can be used for concentrator systems [2].

The production sequence for laser grooved buried contact solar cells is shown in the animation below.

Animation showing the manufacture of a buried contact solar cell. The cell thickness is greatly enlarged for clarity