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Nano Lett. 2012 Jan 11;12(1):214-8. doi: 10.1021/nl203351k. Epub 2012 Jan 3.

Solar Cell light trapping beyond the ray optic limit.

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Thomas J. Watson Laboratories of Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


In 1982, Yablonovitch proposed a thermodynamic limit on light trapping within homogeneous semiconductor slabs, which implied a minimum thickness needed to fully absorb the solar spectrum. However, this limit is valid for geometrical optics but not for a new generation of subwavelength solar absorbers such as ultrathin or inhomogeneously structured cells, wire-based cells, photonic crystal-based cells, and plasmonic cells. Here we show that the key to exceeding the conventional ray optic or so-called ergodic light trapping limit is in designing an elevated local density of optical states (LDOS) for the absorber. Moreover, for any semiconductor we show that it is always possible to exceed the ray optic light trapping limit and use these principles to design a number of new solar absorbers with the key feature of having an elevated LDOS within the absorbing region of the device, opening new avenues for solar cell design and cost reduction.

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