Fundamentals of the nanowire solar cell: Optimization of the open circuit voltage
Present day nanowire solar cells have reached an efficiency of 17.8%. Nanophotonic engineering by nanowire tapering allows for high solar light absorption. In combination with sufficiently high carrier selectivity at the contacts, the short-circuit current (Jsc) has presently reached 29.3 mA/cm2, reasonably close to the 34.6 mA/cm2 theoretical limit for InP. Although further optimization of the current is important, an equally challenging condition to approach the Shockley Queisser (S-Q) limit is to increase the open-circuit voltage (Voc) towards the radiative limit. The key requirement to reach the radiative limit is to increase the external radiative efficiency at open-circuit conditions towards unity. It is the main purpose of this review to highlight recent progress in nanophotonic engineering to further enhance the open circuit voltage of a nanowire solar cell. In addition to material optimization for increasing the internal photoluminescence efficiency, the light extraction efficiency is a major design criterion for enhancing the external radiative efficiency and thus the Voc. Since the semiconductor substrate is a sink for internally generated photoluminescence, it is equally important to eliminate the loss of emitted light into the substrate. Even at the S-Q limit, the Voc is still substantially decreased by a photon entropy loss due to the conversion of a parallel beam of photons from the sun into an isotropic emission pattern, in which each individual photon is emitted into a random direction. The 46.7% ultimate solar cell limit for direct solar irradiation can only be approached, once the cell is capable to focus all emitted photoluminescence back to the sun. We will show that nanophotonic engineering provides a pathway to approach the ultimate limit.