The behavior of solar cells is very often limited by inhomogeneously distributed nanoscale defects. This is the case throughout the entire lifecycle of the solar cell, from the distribution of elements and defects during solar cell growth as well as the charge-collection and recombination during operation, to degradation and failure mechanisms due to impurity diffusion, crack formation, and irradiation- and heat-induced cell damage This has been known for a while in the field of crystalline silicon, but inhomogeneities are far more abundant in polycrystalline materials, and are the limiting factor in thin-film solar cells where grain sizes are often on the order of the diffusion length.
We will show that the high penetration of hard X-rays combined with the high sensitivity to elemental distribution, structure, and spatial resolution offers a unique avenue for highly correlative studies at the nanoscale. We will present results on CdTe and Cu(In,Ga)Se2 where carrier collection is directly correlated to the compositional and structural properties of the material under a large variety of synthesis and operating conditions. The segregation of copper at the grain boundaries of both solar absorbers will be discussed in detail as well as the impact to carrier collection efficiency. Furthermore, the kinetics of copper segregation during growth and processing will be presented.