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English Copyright: Thin films of silicon used for the construction of solar photovoltaic cells comprise the focus of the present volume. For this purpose, we may posit a few simple estimates, which leads to the scope of the issue at hand.
To wit, there are 7 billion human inhabitants on Earth. It would be a pleasant environmental happenstance to have a significant fraction of this 60 GW arise from solar photovoltaic energy conversion, say 10 GW.
However, due to diurnal effects, cloud cover, solar cell conversion efficiency, and so on, a useful estimate is that one square meter of solar cells unconcentrated provides an average of 25W of electrical power as an annual average. Therefore, 10 GW implies million square meters annual production of solar cell materials. Due to the relatively small infrared absorption coefficient of silicon, the thickness of the silicon thin film must be at least about 40 microns.
Combining the above numbers, 4x m2 and 4x m, one finds that the annual production rate of photovoltaic silicon must be around 37, tonnes. While this may seem a daunting figure for a nascent enterprise, it does not greatly exceed current world-wide production of single-crystal silicon for electronics applications, generally.
Thus, one is led to conclude that impressive levels of production of thin-film photovoltaic silicon will be necessary if the enterprise is to succeed, giving cause to pay special attention to such large-area deposition methods as chemical vapor deposition CVD and its plasma variants, as well as the proven large-area method of choice, physical vapor deposition PVD, or sputtering , which among others are well treated in the present volume.
Stepping back from the above grand overview, and observing a related technology, one cannot help but be impressed by the magnificent improvements wrought by the use of compositional heterostructure technology for photovoltaic cells in the case of the rather expensive compound semiconductors, which is their drawback.
Alternatively, structural as opposed to compositional heterostructure technology is well-established in high-frequency low-noise compound semiconductor transistor technology. However, as is discussed in this volume, silicon does allow a myriad of possibilities for structural heterostructure technology, with silicon in its microcrystalline and amorphous states.
The microcrystalline forms of silicon exhibit increased energy gaps so that band-gap engineering may be usefully possible, i. Solid-state theorists are rather far behind the front lines of this initiative and their assistance might be helpful.
Perhaps a hint could be offered? This type of behavior has also been observed for the near-surface atomic layers of semiconductors.
However, reduced interatomic bond length in semiconductor structures causes increased energy band gap. Therefore, there may be an essential interplay between the grain size of microcrystalline silicon for grain sizes comparable to the de Broglie wavelength and energy band gaps, notwithstanding Tamm states and deep-trap recombination. There is ample opportunity here to do good for humanity and the environment, as well as to advance the solid-state and materials sciences.
Further great work needs to be accomplished on a grand scale, comprising the microscopic nature of thin-film silicon and its myriad device possibilities, its commercial production on an impressive scale, and its insertion into the marketplace.