InP Nanowire Array Solar Cells Achieving 13.8% Efficiency by Exceeding the Ray Optics Limit

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Science  01 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6123, pp. 1057-1060
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230969

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Improving Nanowire Photovoltaics

In principle, solar cells based on arrays of nanowires made from compound inorganic semiconductors, such as indium phosphide (InP), should decrease materials and fabrication costs compared with planar junctions. In practice, device efficiencies tend to be low because of poor light absorption and increased rates of unproductive charge recombination in the surface region. Wallentin et al. (p. 1057, published online 17 January) now report that arrays of p-i-n InP nanowires (that switch from positive to negative doping), grown to millimeter lengths, can be optimized by varying the nanowire diameter and length of the n-doped segment. Efficiencies as high as 13.8% were achieved, which are comparable to the best planar InP photovoltaics.


Photovoltaics based on nanowire arrays could reduce cost and materials consumption compared with planar devices but have exhibited low efficiency of light absorption and carrier collection. We fabricated a variety of millimeter-sized arrays of p-type/intrinsic/n-type (p-i-n) doped InP nanowires and found that the nanowire diameter and the length of the top n-segment were critical for cell performance. Efficiencies up to 13.8% (comparable to the record planar InP cell) were achieved by using resonant light trapping in 180-nanometer-diameter nanowires that only covered 12% of the surface. The share of sunlight converted into photocurrent (71%) was six times the limit in a simple ray optics description. Furthermore, the highest open-circuit voltage of 0.906 volt exceeds that of its planar counterpart, despite about 30 times higher surface-to-volume ratio of the nanowire cell.

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