Thermodynamic limit to photonic-plasmonic light-trapping in thin films on metals

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47 Scopus citations


We calculate the maximum optical absorptance enhancements in thin semiconductor films on metals due to structures that diffuse light and couple it to surface plasmon polaritons. The calculations can be used to estimate plasmonic effects on light-trapping in solar cells. The calculations are based on the statistical distribution of energy in the electromagnetic modes of the structure, which include surface plasmon polariton modes at the metal interface as well as the trapped waveguide modes in the film. The enhancement has the form 4 n 2 + n / h (n - film refractive index, - optical wavelength, h - film thickness), which is an increase beyond the non-plasmonic classical enhancement 4n2. Larger resonant enhancements occur for wavelengths near the surface plasmon frequency; these add up to 2 mAcm2 to the photocurrent of a solar cell based on a 500 nm film of crystalline silicon. We also calculated the effects of plasmon dissipation in the metal. Dissipation rates typical of silver reverse the resonant enhancement effect for silicon, but a non-resonant enhancement remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104501
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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