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Types of Recombination

Overview

  1. Eventually, electrons lose energy and stabilize back to the valence band, recombining with a hole.
  2. There are three types of recombination; Radiative, Shockley-Read-Hall, and Auger.
  3. Auger and Shockley-Read-Hall recombination dominate in silicon-based solar cells.
  4. Among other factors, recombination is associated with the lifetime of the material, and thus of the solar cell.

Any electron which exists in the conduction band is in a meta-stable state and will eventually stabilize to a lower energy position in the valence band. When this occurs, it must move into an empty valence band state. Therefore, when the electron stabilizes back down into the valence band, it also effectively removes a hole. This process is called recombination. There are three basic types of recombination in the bulk of a single-crystal semiconductor. These are:

  • Radiative recombination;
  • Auger recombination1; and
  • Shockley-Read-Hall recombination.2,3

These are described in the animation and text below.

Radiative (Band-to-Band) Recombination

Radiative recombination is the recombination mechanism that dominates in direct bandgap semiconductors. The light produced from a light emitting diode (LED) is the most obvious example of radiative recombination in a semiconductor device. Concentrator and space solar cells cells are typically made from direct bandgap materials (GaAs etc) and radiative recombination dominates. However, most terrestrial solar cells are made from silicon, which is an indirect bandgap semiconductor and radiative recombination is extremely low and usually neglected. The key characteristics of radiative recombination are:

  • In radiative recombination, an electron from the conduction band directly combines with a hole in the valence band and releases a photon; and
  • The emitted photon has an energy similar to the band gap and is therefore only weakly absorbed such that it can exit the piece of semiconductor.

Recombination Through Defect Levels

Recombination through defects, also called Shockley-Read-Hall or SRH recombination, does not occur in perfectly pure, undefected material. SRH recombination is a two-step process. The two steps involved in SRH recombination are:

  • An electron (or hole) is trapped by an energy state in the forbidden region which is introduced through defects in the crystal lattice. These defects can either be unintentionally introduced or deliberately added to the material, for example in doping the material; and
  • If a hole (or an electron) moves up to the same energy state before the electron is thermally re-emitted into the conduction band, then it recombines.

The rate at which a carrier moves into the energy level in the forbidden gap depends on the distance of the introduced energy level from either of the band edges. Therefore, if an energy is introduced close to either band edge, recombination is less likely as the electron is likely to be re-emitted to the conduction band edge rather than recombine with a hole which moves into the same energy state from the valence band. For this reason, energy levels near mid-gap are very effective for recombination.

Auger Recombination

Auger Recombination involves three carriers. An electron and a hole recombine, but rather than emitting the energy as heat or as a photon, the energy is given to a third carrier, an electron in the conduction band. This electron then thermalizes back down to the conduction band edge.

Auger recombination is most important at high carrier concentrations caused by heavy doping or high level injection under concentrated sunlight. In silicon-based solar cells (the most popular), Auger recombination limits the lifetime and ultimate efficiency. The more heavily doped the material is, the shorter the Auger recombination lifetime.

The magnitude of the various recombination mechanisms is available at the PV Lighthouse Recombination Calculator