Charged oxide inversion layer (COIL) solar cells

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials


Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells now generate a significant proportion of the world's electricity and have vast potential for further growth. PV is enormously important to the UK with >13.5 GW now installed here, and growth worldwide is forecast to be over tenfold in the next three decades. More than 90% of solar cells are produced from crystalline silicon, and costs have fallen to levels not previously thought possible (< 2.34 US cents/kWh). Other technologies have yet to gain industrial traction and commercial barriers to entry are becoming substantial. Silicon-based solar technology is hence likely to remain dominant and critical to the expansion of renewable energy in the coming decades. Its continuous advancement is essential to accelerate uptake of and impact from green electricity generation worldwide and for fulfilling the UK's obligations under the Paris Agreement.

The passivated emitter and rear cells (PERC) architecture is standard for today's silicon solar cells. The PERC technology will reach its practical limits in the next 10 years, with a top forecast commercial efficiency of ~24%. Overcoming this efficiency boundary requires cell architectures that circumvent the limitations of PERC. This project aims to develop a new cell technology to supersede PERC in which the drawbacks of high temperature processing are avoided, the efficiency potential of a single junction is fully exploited, and a route to implement tandem and bifacial architectures is directly possible. This programme brings together teams at the Universities of Oxford and Warwick with world-leading expertise in silicon surface passivation, carrier lifetime, and impurity management for the development of PV devices. The aim is to conduct fundamental work necessary to facilitate a step-reduction in the cost per Watt of PV electricity, thus producing a disruptive change in the advancement of this important renewable energy industry.

This project will develop a charged oxide inversion layer (COIL) solar cell by integrating advanced nanoscale thin-film materials to augment the PV potential of a silicon absorber. This novel cell architecture has the potential to overtake the current standard PERC devices, while providing a direct route to use in emerging selective contact, tandem, and bifacial designs. So far, the efficiency of an inversion layer architecture has been exploited only to a limited extent, e.g. in a 18% cell. The potential of the COIL cell extends well beyond this mark, and as high as 28% in a single-junction configuration could be achieved. This project will deliver the fundamental understanding necessary to unlock this potential, exploit the inversion layer concept by engineering highly charged dielectric thin-films, and use these films to produce a prototype cell device.


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Hamer P (2021) Thermal Processes and their Impact on Surface-Related Degradation in physica status solidi (RRL) - Rapid Research Letters