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1. US10181536 - System and method for manufacturing photovoltaic structures with a metal seed layer

Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

CROSS-REFERENCE TO OTHER APPLICATION

      This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 14/920,776, entitled “SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR MANUFACTURING PHOTOVOLTAIC STRUCTURES WITH A METAL SEED LAYER,” by inventor Wei Wang, filed 22 Oct. 2015, which is related to U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/220,532, entitled “SOLAR CELL WITH ELECTROPLATED METAL GRID,” filed Aug. 29, 2011, the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference in its entirety for all purposes.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

      This generally relates to the fabrication of photovoltaic structures. More specifically, this is related to the fabrication of photovoltaic structures having a metal seed layer.

Definitions

      “Solar cell” or “cell” is a photovoltaic structure capable of converting light into electricity. A cell may have any size and any shape, and may be created from a variety of materials. For example, a solar cell may be a photovoltaic structure fabricated on a silicon wafer or one or more thin films on a substrate material (e.g., glass, plastic, or any other material capable of supporting the photovoltaic structure), or a combination thereof.
      A “solar cell strip,” “photovoltaic strip,” or “strip” is a portion or segment of a photovoltaic structure, such as a solar cell. A photovoltaic structure may be divided into a number of strips. A strip may have any shape and any size. The width and length of a strip may be the same or different from each other. Strips may be formed by further dividing a previously divided strip.
      “Finger lines,” “finger electrodes,” and “fingers” refer to elongated, electrically conductive (e.g., metallic) electrodes of a photovoltaic structure for collecting carriers.
      A “busbar,” “bus line,” or “bus electrode” refers to an elongated, electrically conductive (e.g., metallic) electrode of a photovoltaic structure for aggregating current collected by two or more finger lines. A busbar is usually wider than a finger line, and can be deposited or otherwise positioned anywhere on or within the photovoltaic structure. A single photovoltaic structure may have one or more busbars.
      A “photovoltaic structure” can refer to a solar cell, a segment, or solar cell strip. A photovoltaic structure is not limited to a device fabricated by a particular method. For example, a photovoltaic structure can be a crystalline silicon-based solar cell, a thin film solar cell, an amorphous silicon-based solar cell, a polycrystalline silicon-based solar cell, or a strip thereof.

BACKGROUND

      Most of the current solar cell manufacturing facilities, however, are insufficiently equipped and/or not optimized for large-scale production. The emerging solar market demands factories that can produce hundreds of megawatts, if not gigawatts, of solar cells per year. The design, size, and throughput of present facilities are not intended for such high-volume manufacturing. Hence, various new designs in the manufacturing process are needed.

SUMMARY

      One embodiment of the present invention can provide a system for fabrication of a photovoltaic structure. The system can include a physical vapor deposition tool configured to sequentially deposit a transparent conductive oxide layer and a metallic layer on an emitter layer formed on a first surface of a Si substrate, without requiring the Si substrate to be removed from the physical vapor deposition tool after depositing the transparent conductive oxide layer. The system can further include an electroplating tool configured to plate a metallic grid on the metallic layer and a thermal annealing tool configured to anneal the transparent conductive oxide layer.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the thermal annealing tool can be configured to subject the photovoltaic structure to a temperature ranging from 150° C. to 400° C.
      In a further variation, the thermal annealing tool can be configured to subject the photovoltaic structure to the temperature for a time period ranging from 5 seconds to 5 minutes.
      In a further variation, the thermal annealing tool can be configured to anneal the transparent conducing oxide layer in air, vacuum, forming gas, or inert gases.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the electroplating tool can be configured to plate a metallic grid before the thermal annealing tool annealing the transparent conductive oxide layer, and the thermal annealing tool can be configured to simultaneously anneal the plated metallic grid and the transparent conductive oxide layer.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the physical vapor deposition tool can be further configured to sequentially deposit a second transparent conductive oxide layer and a second metallic layer on a surface-field layer formed on a second surface of the Si substrate, without requiring the Si substrate to be removed from the physical vapor deposition tool after depositing the second transparent conductive oxide layer. The electroplating tool can be further configured to deposit a second metallic grid on the second metallic seed layer.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the physical vapor deposition tool can be configured to perform sputtering, evaporation, or both.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the metallic thin layer can include: Cu, Ni, Ag, Ti, Ta, W, TiN, TaN, WN, TiW, NiCr, or any combination thereof.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the transparent conductive oxide layer can include: indium-tin-oxide (ITO), aluminum-doped zinc-oxide (ZnO:Al), gallium-doped zinc-oxide (ZnO:Ga), tungsten-doped indium oxide (IWO), Zn-in-Sn—O (ZITO), or any combination thereof.
      In a variation of this embodiment, the physical vapor deposition tool can be configured to deposit the transparent conductive oxide layer at a temperature lower than 100° C.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

       FIG. 1 shows an exemplary photovoltaic structure, according to an embodiment of the present invention.
       FIG. 2 shows an exemplary fabrication system, according to an embodiment of the present invention.
       FIG. 3 shows an exemplary fabrication process, according to an embodiment of the present invention.
       FIG. 4 shows an exemplary fabrication system, according to an embodiment of the present invention.
       FIG. 5 shows an exemplary substrate holder, according to an embodiment of the present invention.
       FIG. 6 shows an exemplary fabrication system, according to an embodiment of the present invention
      In the figures, like reference numerals refer to the same figure elements.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

      The following description is presented to enable any person skilled in the art to make and use the embodiments, and is provided in the context of a particular application and its requirements. Various modifications to the disclosed embodiments will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art, and the general principles defined herein may be applied to other embodiments and applications without departing from the spirit and scope of the present disclosure. Thus, the present invention is not limited to the embodiments shown, but is to be accorded the widest scope consistent with the principles and features disclosed herein.

Overview

      Embodiments of the present invention can solve the technical problem of improving the production throughput for photovoltaic structures with electroplated metallic grids. The photovoltaic structures can include a metallic seed layer formed using a physical vapor deposition (PVD) process to improve adhesion between an electroplated metallic grid and a TCO layer. Typically, a conventional fabrication process involves post-deposition annealing of the TCO layer. For photovoltaic structures with a metallic seed layer on the TCO layer, the annealing is usually performed before depositing the metallic seed layer, and often involves removing the photovoltaic structures from the deposition chamber. In some embodiments of the present invention, the metallic seed layer can be deposited after the deposition of the TCO layer and before the TCO annealing. This arrangement allows the TCO layer and the metallic seed layer to be deposited in the same chamber. The consolidation of these two operations can streamline the fabrication of photovoltaic structures, which can then increase the production throughput. Subsequently, a high-temperature, rapid annealing process can be performed after the deposition of the metallic seed layer or after electrochemical plating (ECP) of the bulk metallic grid to improve the film quality of the TCO layer.

Photovoltaic Structures with Electroplated Metallic Grids

      Electroplated metallic electrode grids (e.g., electroplated Cu grids) have been shown to exhibit lower resistance than conventional aluminum or screen-printed-silver-paste electrodes. Such low electrical resistance can be essential in achieving high-efficiency photovoltaic structures. In addition, electroplated copper electrodes can also tolerate micro cracks better, which may occur during a subsequent cleaving process. Such micro cracks might impair silver-paste-electrode cells. Plated-copper electrode, on the other hand, can preserve the conductivity across the cell surface even if there are micro cracks. The copper electrode's higher tolerance for micro cracks allows the use of thinner silicon wafers, which can reduce the overall fabrication cost. More details on using copper plating to form low-resistance electrodes on a photovoltaic structure are provided in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/220,532, entitled “SOLAR CELL WITH ELECTROPLATED GRID,” filed on Aug. 29, 2011, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
       FIG. 1 shows an exemplary photovoltaic structure, according to an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 1, photovoltaic structure 100 can include base layer 102, front and back quantum tunneling barrier (QTB) layers 104 and 106, emitter layer 108, surface-field layer 110, front and back TCO layers 112 and 114, a front electrode grid that can include Cu seed layer 116 and electroplated bulk Cu layer 118, and a back electrode grid that can include Cu seed layer 120 and electroplated bulk Cu layer 122.
      Base layer 102 can include various materials, such as undoped or lightly doped monocrystalline silicon and undoped or lightly doped micro-crystalline silicon. QTB layers 104 and 106 can include various dielectric materials, such as silicon oxide (SiO x), hydrogenated SiO x, silicon nitride (SiN x), hydrogenated SiN x, aluminum oxide (AlO x), silicon oxynitride (SiON), aluminum oxide (AlO x), hydrogenated SiON, and any combination thereof. In addition to dielectric material, the QTB layers may also include intrinsic (e.g., undoped) silicon in various forms, such as single crystalline Si, polycrystalline Si, amorphous Si, and any combination thereof. The QTB layers can be formed using a wet process that may involve wet or steam oxidation. Emitter layer 108 can include heavily doped wide bandgap material, such as amorphous Si (a-Si) or hydrogenated a-Si (a-Si:H). If base layer 102 is lightly doped, emitter layer 108 can have a conductive doping type opposite to that of base layer 102. Surface-field layer 110 can also include heavily doped wide bandgap material, such as a-Si or a-Si:H. The conductive doping type of surface-field layer 110 can be opposite to that of emitter layer 108. In some embodiments, emitter layer 108 and/or surface-field layer 110 can have a graded doping profile, with a lower doping concentration near the base/emitter or base/surface-field layer interface. The formation of emitter layer 108 and/or surface-field layer 110 can involve a chemical-vapor-deposition (CVD) epitaxial process, such as a plasma-enhanced chemical-vapor-deposition (PECVD) process.
      Front and back TCO layers 112 and 114 can be formed using materials such as indium-tin-oxide (ITO), aluminum-doped zinc-oxide (ZnO:Al), gallium-doped zinc-oxide (ZnO:Ga), tungsten-doped indium oxide (IWO), Zn-in-Sn—O (ZITO), and their combinations. The TCO layers can be formed using a PVD process. The TCO layers can then be annealed to improve their electro-optical properties (e.g., high transparency over a wide wavelength range and low electrical resistivity). For example, if the TCO layers include ITO, the annealing can reduce its sheet resistance. Typically, the annealing process can include subjecting the photovoltaic structure to an elevated temperature for a period of time. For example, the annealing of an ITO film can involve subjecting the photovoltaic structure to 200° C. for 20 minutes or longer.
      As discussed in the aforementioned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/220,532, a thin metallic seed layer (e.g., Cu seed layer 116) can be deposited to improve the adhesion between the electroplated Cu grid and the underlying TCO layer using a PVD technique (e.g., sputtering or evaporation), on top of the TCO layer, because high-energy atoms sputtered from the target can adhere well to the TCO layer. This metallic seed layer can then enhance the adhesion between the TCO layer and the subsequently plated Cu grid.
      As discussed previously, electroplated Cu grids can provide a number of advantages, such as reduced resistance and increased tolerance to micro cracks. However, the fabrication of a reliable Cu grid can involve depositing a Cu seed layer using a PVD process, which can complicate the fabrication process of photovoltaic structures with Cu grids.
       FIG. 2 shows an exemplary fabrication system of photovoltaic structures, according to an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 2, fabrication system 200 can include wet station 202, PECVD tool 204, PVD tool 206, annealing station 208, PVD tool 210, and electrochemical plating (ECP) tool 212.
      During fabrication, the substrates (e.g., crystalline Si wafers) can first undergo a series of wet processes (e.g., surface cleaning and texturing, and wet oxidization) at wet station 202, and then be loaded into PECVD tool 204 for the deposition of the emitter and/or surface-field layers. Subsequently, they can be loaded into PVD tool 206 for the deposition of the front and/or back side TCO layer(s). In this approach, the TCO annealing typically occurs right after the TCO deposition, which often requires taking the photovoltaic structures out of the PVD chamber. This is because the PVD process and the TCO annealing process may require different temperatures. For example, radio-frequency (RF) sputtering of an ITO film can be performed at room temperature (e.g., between 20 and 25° C.), whereas typical annealing of the ITO film may require a temperature of at least 150° C. In a production line, it might not be efficient to adjust the temperature setting of a processing tool between batches, because it can take a long time for the ambient temperature inside the processing tool to reach the desired setting. Hence, after the deposition of the TCO layer(s), the photovoltaic structures can be removed from PVD tool 206 and transferred to annealing station 208. After the TCO layer(s) are annealed, the photovoltaic structures can be sent to PVD tool 210, which can be different from PVD tool 206, for the deposition of the metallic seed layer. It is also possible to send the photovoltaic structures back to PVD tool 206 for metal deposition. This approach, however, will increase the product's wait time or the equipment's idle time. Subsequent to the deposition of the metallic seed layer, the photovoltaic structures can be transferred to ECP station 212 for Cu plating. ECP station 212 can include a large electrolyte bath and a moving cathode. Photovoltaic structures attached to the moving cathode can be plated with metal as they move through the electrolyte bath.
      Large-scale fabrication may need each processing tool to process tens, sometimes even hundreds, of wafers during each processing cycle. Various deposition tools, such as PECVD tool and PVD tool, can be expensive and have large footprints. The fabrication system shown in FIG. 2 can often include two separate PVD tools for the deposition of the TCO layer and the metallic seed layer. Such a system can be costly and have a large footprint. Moreover, loading and unloading the photovoltaic structures in and out of multiple processing tools can be time-consuming and can lead to wafer damage, thus reducing the overall system throughput.
      To solve such a problem, in some embodiments, annealing of the TCO layer can be performed after the deposition of the metallic seed layer or ECP of the metallic grids. The two PVD processes can be performed back-to-back, making it possible to use a single PVD tool to deposit both the TCO layer(s) and the metallic seed layers.
       FIG. 3 shows an exemplary fabrication process, according to an embodiment of the present invention. During fabrication, a plurality of substrates can be obtained (operation 302). The substrates can include crystalline silicon (e.g., monocrystalline silicon or polycrystalline silicon) wafers and can be optionally texturized. The substrates can also be cleaned. In addition, saw damages can be removed via wet etching. The substrates can then be oxidized (e.g., steam or wet oxidation) to form the front and/or back QTB layers (operation 304).
      After the wet processes, the substrates can be dried and sent to the PECVD tool for deposition of the emitter layer and surface-field layer (operation 306). For large-scale, high-throughput fabrication, the PECVD tool may simultaneously deposit material onto a large number of substrates at a time. In some embodiments, a wafer carrier that can carry over 100 Si wafers (e.g., 5-inch or 6-inch square or pseudo-square Si wafers) can be used inside the PECVD tool to allow simultaneous material deposition. The wafer carrier can be a graphite or carbon fiber composite (CFC) carrier coated with a low-porosity material, such as pyrolytic carbon or silicon carbide. The wafer carrier may also include a non-flat surface or a partially carved-out structure at the bottom of the wafer-holding pockets. After deposition of the emitter layer, the wafers may be turned over for deposition of a surface-field layer. Alternatively, the deposition sequence may change so that the surface-field layer can be deposited first.
      After the PECVD operation(s), the multilayer structures can be sent to a PVD tool for deposition of front and/or back TCO layers (e.g., ITO films) (operation 308). The back TCO layer can facilitate the bifacial operation of the photovoltaic structures. Alternatively, only the front (e.g., the side that faces incident light) TCO layer might be needed.
      In some embodiments, the PVD tool can include a sputtering machine, such as a radio-frequency (RF) magnetron sputtering machine. In further embodiments, the RF magnetron sputtering machine can include one or more rotary targets coupled to a periodically tuned capacitor. This arrangement can ensure a uniform etching profile of the targets, which can reduce cost and time for maintenance. A detailed description of the rotary targets can be found in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 14/142,605, entitled “Radio-Frequency Sputtering System with Rotary Target for Fabricating Solar Cells,” filed Dec. 27, 2013, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
      In some embodiments, deposition of the front and/or back TCO layers can be performed under a relatively low temperature (e.g., at room temperature or at a temperature lower than 100° C.) in order to improve the open circuit voltage (V oc) of the photovoltaic structures. For example, low-temperature PVD can increase the V oc of double-sided heterojunction photovoltaic structures from 710 mV to 720 mV. In addition to improved V oc, room temperature PVD can also improve the system throughput, because there is no longer a need to raise the temperature of the PVD tool. TCO films (e.g., ITO films) formed using low-temperature PVD can be in an amorphous structure state. Annealing can crystallize the amorphous TCO to reduce resistivity and improve transparency.
      After PVD of the front and/or back TCO layers, the multilayer structures can remain in the same PVD tool for deposition of the metallic seed layers (e.g., Cu seed layers) on the front and back side of the multilayer structures (operation 310). To do so, in some embodiments, the sputtering tool can include multiple targets (e.g., an ITO target and one or more metallic targets) to enable sequential deposition of multiple layers of thin films. For example, the sputtering tool can sequentially deposit an ITO layer and a Cu seed layer. Moreover, the sputtering tool may also deposit one or more metallic adhesive layers between the ITO layer and seed layer. These adhesive layers can improve the adhesion between any subsequently deposited metallic layer and the ITO layer. The metallic seed layers typically can include the same metallic material as the subsequently plated metallic grids, whereas the metallic adhesive layers can include Cu, Ni, Ag, Ti, Ta, W, TiN, TaN, WN, TiW, NiCr, and their combinations. In some embodiments, the multiple targets can be electrically insulated from each other, and can be sequentially biased to allow one active target at a time. Alternatively, the PVD tool can include a rotational shutter to expose only one target to the deposition surface at a time. Other types of sputtering tool (e.g., a sputtering tool with multiple chambers) can also be possible, as long as they allow sequential deposition of multiple layers. In some embodiments, the sputtering tool can be configured to deposit thin films of different materials without breaking the vacuum. For example, the sputtering tool can first deposit a thin layer of ITO and then deposit a thin layer of Cu under the same vacuum, thus significantly reducing the processing time.
      In some embodiments, subsequent to PVD deposition of the multiple layers (e.g., a TCO layer and a metallic seed layer), the multilayer structures can be taken out of the PVD tool and sent to the ECP station for the plating of the front and back side metallic grids (operation 312). The photolithography process that defines the grid pattern can be a standard process and is not shown in the flowchart. ECP of the metallic grids can include electroplating of a Cu grid on both the front and back sides of the multilayer structures.
      After ECP, the multilayer structures with metallic grids can be sent to the annealing station for annealing of the TCO layers and/or ECP metallic grids (operation 314). As discussed previously, annealing is important to TCO because it can improve the optical and electrical properties of the TCO material. However, because the multilayer structures now include metallic grids with thin lines (e.g., front and back Cu grids with thin Cu finger lines), the conventional annealing process may not be suitable. For example, a typical TCO annealing process may involve subjecting the TCO-coated multilayer structures to a temperature of 200° C. for 20 minutes or longer. Exposing the metallic grids to a high temperature for a prolonged period may weaken the thin metal lines, especially the bonding between the thin metal lines and the underlying structure. To prevent peeling-off of the thin metal lines, in some embodiments, the annealing of the TCO can include a high-temperature, rapid annealing process. More specifically, the annealing temperature can be between 150° C. and 400° C., and the time duration can be between a few seconds (e.g., 5 seconds) and a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes). Because the metallic grids are only exposed to the high temperature environment for a short time period, minimal or no damage can occur. Additional advantages provided by the high-temperature, rapid annealing process can also include reduced fabrication time, and thus increased production throughput. In some embodiments, the annealing can be performed in air on hot plates. In alternative embodiments, the annealing can be performed in a vacuum chamber, or in a chamber filled with a forming gas (N 2/H 2), one or more inert gases (e.g., Ar 2), or a combination thereof.
      As discussed before, high-temperature, rapid annealing can re-crystallize the amorphous TCO, which not only improves transparency but also reduces the resistivity of the TCO material. Consequently, the annealing and the low-temperature PVD of TCO layers can improve overall efficiency of photovoltaic structures by about 1-2%.
      In addition to the TCO, the subsequently formed metallic layers (e.g., the metallic seed layer and the ECP Cu layer) can also be annealed. Annealing the Cu grid after the ECP can increase the reliability and reduce resistivity of the grid. In some embodiments, the same high-temperature, rapid annealing process used for annealing of the TCO layer can also anneal the electroplated Cu grid. As a result, both the TCO layers and the Cu grids are annealed at the same time.
       FIG. 4 shows an exemplary fabrication system, according to an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 4, fabrication system 400 can include wet station 402, PECVD tool 404, PVD tool 406, ECP station 408, and annealing station 410. Wet station 402 and PECVD tool 404 can be similar to wet station 202 and PECVD tool 204 shown in FIG. 2, respectively. Both wet station 402 and PECVD tool 404 can process Si substrate in batches, with each batch including tens or hundreds of Si substrates. In some embodiments, wet station 402 can be configured to form the front and back QTB layers simultaneously using a wet oxidation technique on the Si substrates. Multilayer structures emerging from PECVD tool 404 can include an emitter layer on one side and a surface-field layer on the other side.
      PVD tool 406 can be configured to sequentially deposit a thin layer of TCO and one or more metallic layers on one or both sides of the multilayer structures. In some embodiments, PVD tool 406 can include a multiple-target sputtering tool (e.g., an RF magnetron sputtering tool). The multiple targets inside the deposition chamber can include an ITO target and one or more metallic targets. In some embodiments, the targets can include rotary targets coupled to periodically tuned capacitors. Because the multiple layers (e.g., a TCO layer and one or more metallic layers) can be deposited sequentially without needing to break the vacuum, the PVD process consumes significantly less time than multiple separate PVD processes. In some embodiments, the substrate holder inside PVD tool 406 can be vertically oriented, as shown in FIG. 5, to expose both sides of the substrate to the sputtered ions to allow simultaneous material deposition. For example, the front and back TCO layers can be simultaneously deposited onto the emitter and surface-field layers, and the front and back metallic seed layers can be simultaneously deposited onto the front and back TCO layers. Alternatively, substrates can be placed in a carrier that is oriented substantially horizontally during deposition. However, this might require that the substrates be turned over to allow deposition on the other side.
       FIG. 5 shows an exemplary substrate holder, according to an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 5, substrate holder 500 for PVD can include a number of openings (e.g., openings 502 and 504), which can be arranged in an array. Each opening can accommodate a Si-based substrate. For example, opening 502 can accommodate Si-based substrate 506. Depending on the system, the openings can be configured to accommodate Si-based substrates of various sizes and shapes, including but not limited to: 5-inch by 5-inch square, 6-inch by 6-inch square, 5-inch by 5-inch pseudo-square, and 6-inch by 6-inch pseudo-square. Each substrate can be held in place by multiple clips, such as clips 508 and 510. During a PVD process, one or more substrate holders can be placed inside the PVD chamber vertically to allow simultaneous material deposition on both sides of the Si-based substrates. In some embodiments, a thin layer of ITO and a thin layer of Cu can be sequentially deposited on both sides of the Si-based substrates.
      Now returning to FIG. 4, ECP station 408 can be similar to ECP station 212 shown in FIG. 2. More specifically, the wafer-holding jigs can carry the photovoltaic structures in such a way that both the front and back sides of the photovoltaic structures are exposed to the electrolyte solution. Therefore, metallic ions (e.g., Cu ions) can be deposited on both sides of the photovoltaic structures as the wafer-holding jigs moving through the electrolyte bath. In other words, the front and back metallic grids can be formed simultaneously. Photovoltaic structures emerging from ECP station 408 can be cleaned, dried, and sent to annealing station 410 for a high-temperature, rapid annealing. Annealing station 410 can take on various forms. In some embodiments, annealing station 410 can include hot plates, which can be placed in air or in a vacuum. In some embodiments, annealing station 410 can include an oven, which can be filled with various ambient gases, such as air, a forming gas, one or more inert gases (e.g., Ar 2), or any combinations thereof. The annealing temperature can range from 150° C. to 400° C., and the annealing time can range from a few seconds to a few minutes (e.g., from 5 seconds to 5 minutes). If the annealing temperature is set high, the annealing time can be set relatively short.
      Compared with the fabrication system shown in FIG. 2, fabrication system 400 provides a number of advantages. The most obvious advantage is that system 400 can include fewer components than system 200. Novel fabrication system 400 can include a single PVD tool configured to deposit multiple layers of different materials. Fewer tools means lower equipment cost, smaller factory spaces, and hence reduced capital expenditures. In addition, the novel fabrication system can also provide a more streamlined fabrication process. There is no longer a need to unload the photovoltaic structures from one PVD tool and load them into another PVD tool, or to wait for the deposition chambers to be pumped down after the loading/unloading. Consequently, the production time of one batch of photovoltaic structures can be significantly reduced. The batch production time can be further reduced by the shorter time needed for annealing.
      This novel fabrication system can also provide additional advantages. More specifically, the low-temperature PVD of the TCO layers can improve the V oc of the fabricated photovoltaic structures, and the high-temperature rapid annealing can improve the TCO film property (e.g., transparency and resistivity) and reliability of the metallic grid. Overall, this novel fabrication system can produce, with high throughput, photovoltaic structures that have a higher V oc, higher TCO transparency, lower TCO resistivity, lower grid resistivity, and better grid reliability.
      In the example shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, the TCO annealing is performed after the ECP process of the metallic grid. In practice, it is also possible to have the TCO annealed before the ECP process. FIG. 6 shows an exemplary fabrication system, according to an embodiment of the present invention. In FIG. 6, fabrication system 600 can include wet station 602, PECVD tool 604, PVD tool 606, annealing station 608, and ECP station 610. Functions and settings of the various components of fabrication system 600 can be similar to those of fabrication system 400, with the exception of annealing station 608. For example, wet station 602 can be similar to wet station 402, PECVD tool 604 can be similar to PECVD tool 404, PVD tool 606 can be similar to PVD tool 406, and ECP station 610 can be similar to ECP tool 408.
      Unlike the annealing station shown in FIG. 4, in FIG. 6, annealing station 608 can be positioned between PVD tool 606 and ECP station 610 to allow photovoltaic structures emerging from PVD tool 606 to be annealed before the ECP process. In some embodiments, after depositions of both the TCO layer and the Cu seed layer, the photovoltaic structures can be sent directly to anneal station 608, which can be a separate tool. In alternative embodiments, annealing station 608 can be incorporated into PVD tool 606 to allow in-situ annealing. The annealing process can be performed at a lower temperature and for a longer duration due to the absence of the Cu grid at the moment.
      Allowing in-situ annealing of the TCO layer can simplify the fabrication system because a separate annealing tool may no longer be needed. A simplified system can lead to reduced cost. However, annealing the TCO prior to the formation of the Cu grids also means that the Cu grids will not be annealed by the same process. Additional annealing may be needed in order to anneal the Cu grids.
      In general, embodiments of the present can invention provide a solution to a technical problem that is unique to photovoltaic structures with electroplated metallic grids. More specifically, the relative weak bonding between the electroplated metallic grid and the underlying TCO layer may require a metallic seed layer be deposited on the TCO layer using a PVD technique. This additional PVD operation can reduce the fabrication throughput. However, by allowing the TCO layer and metallic seed layer to be deposited in the same PVD chamber and by using a high temperature, rapid post-PVD annealing process, embodiments of the present invention can not only improve the optical and electrical properties of the TCO layer but also increase the fabrication throughput. The annealing of the TCO layer can be performed before or after the electroplating of the metallic grids.
      The foregoing descriptions of various embodiments have been presented only for purposes of illustration and description. They are not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the present invention to the forms disclosed. Accordingly, many modifications and variations will be apparent to practitioners skilled in the art. Additionally, the above disclosure is not intended to limit the present invention.