Thin film semiconductors could be deposited on rolled up flexible surfaces

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A technique developed by scientists at Penn State University in the US could enable the production of large sheets of thin-film silicon semiconductors at low temperatures. The sheets could be made in what the team calls ‘simple reactors’ at a fraction of the cost of those produced using current technology.

“We have developed a high pressure, plasma free approach to creating large area thin film semiconductors,” said Professor John Badding, who leads the research team. “By putting the process under high pressure, our technique could make it less expensive and easier to create the large, flexible semiconductors used in flat panel monitors and solar cells and which are the second most commercially important semiconductors.”

Thin film silicon semiconductors are typically made using chemical vapour deposition. To create a functioning semiconductor, the chemical reaction that deposits the silicon onto the surface must happen at a temperature low enough for hydrogen atoms to be incorporated into the coating, rather than being driven off. Current technology requires this to happen in what the team calls ‘massive and expensive reactors’.

"With our high-pressure chemistry technique,” Prof Badding continued, “we can create low temperature reactions in smaller spaces and with a much smaller volume of gas. The reduced space allows us, for the first time, to create semiconductors on multiple, stacked surfaces simultaneously, rather than on just a single surface.

“To maximise the surface area, rolled up flexible surfaces can be used in a very simple and far more compact reactor. The area of the resulting rolled-up semiconducting material could, upon further development, approach or even exceed, 1km2.”