By Hubert -Joachim Frenck, Leader of Vacuum Division, Process Development Department, Q-Cell AG
The deposition of thin films is a key technology for a large variety of technical and scientific applications. Among them is the deposition of silicon nitride (SiNx) to passivate the surface of silicon solar cells. The SiN film serves several purposes. It is a broadband anti-reflection layer, it serves to saturate dangling bonds and/or other surface states of the silicon, and last but not least, it is a protection layer to prevent alkali ions and other impurities from diffusing into the silicon causing perturbations of the performance of the solar cell. This multitude of properties to be fulfilled at the same time often causes difficulties in assessing the effect of a single process parameter, let alone the task of optimizing the SiN film in all required aspects at the same time. The aforementioned technical features of the SiN film provide the very property that largely determines the aesthetically pleasing appearance of a cell, and hence a PV module, as the colour of the module is determined by the cell composition. In order to complicate things further, there are numerous deposition techniques being applied both on a scientific level as well as in production environments.