Enhanced absorption in thin and ultrathin silicon films by 3D photonic band gap back reflectors

Devashish Sharma, Shakeeb Bin Hasan, Rebecca Saive, Jaap J.W. van der Vegt, Willem L. Vos*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Since thin and ultrathin silicon films have limited optical absorption, we explore the effect of a nanostructured back reflector to recycle the unabsorbed light. As a back reflector, we investigate a three-dimensional (3D) photonic band gap crystal made from silicon that is readily integrated with the thin silicon films. We numerically obtain the optical properties by solving the 3D time-harmonic Maxwell equations using the finite-element method, and model silicon with experimentally determined optical constants. The absorption enhancement spectra and the photonic band gap generated current density are obtained by weighting the absorption spectra with the AM 1.5 standard solar spectrum. We study thin films in two different regimes, much thicker
(LSi = 2400 nm) or much thinner (LSi = 80 nm) than the wavelength of light. For LSi = 2400 nm thin film, the 3D photonic band gap crystal enhances the spectrally averaged (λ = 680 nm to 880 nm) silicon absorption by 2.22 × (s −pol.) to 2.45 × (p −pol.), which exceeds the enhancement of a perfect metal back reflector (1.47 to 1.56 ×). The absorption is considerably enhanced by the (i) broadband angle and polarization-independent reflectivity in the 3D photonic band gap, and (ii) the excitation of many guided modes in the film by the crystal’s surface diffraction leading to greatly enhanced path lengths. For LSi = 80 nm ultrathin film, the photonic crystal back
reflector yields a striking average absorption enhancement of 9.15 ×, much more than 0.83 × for a perfect metal. This enhancement is due to a remarkable guided mode that is confined within the combined thickness of the ultrathin film and the photonic crystal’s Bragg attenuation length. An important feature of the 3D photonic band gap is to have a broad bandwidth, which leads to the back reflector’s Bragg attenuation length being much shorter than the silicon absorption length. Consequently, light is confined inside the thin film and the remarkable absorption enhancements are not due to the additional thickness of the photonic crystal back reflector. We briefly discuss a number of high-tech devices that could profit from our results, including ultrathin film solar cells.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41023-41047
Number of pages25
JournalOptics express
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2021


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