The optimisation of the specular reflectance of solar collectors is a key parameter to increase the global yield of concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. In this work, the influence of filtered cathodic vacuum arc deposition parameters, particularly working pressure and deposition time, on the specular and diffuse reflectance of aluminium thin films, was studied. Changes in specular reflectance, measured by ultraviolet–visible and near-infrared spectroscopy (UV-vis-NIR) spectrophotometry, were directly correlated with thin film elemental concentration depth profiles, obtained by Rutherford backscattering spectrometry (RBS), and surface and cross-sectional morphologies as measured by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and profilometry. Finally, atomic force microscopy (AFM) provided information on the roughness and growth mechanism of the films. The two contributions to the total reflectance of the films, namely diffuse and specular reflectance, were found to be deeply influenced by deposition conditions. It was proven that working pressure and deposition time directly determine the predominant factor. Specular reflectance varied from 12 to 99.8% of the total reflectance for films grown at the same working pressure of 0.1 Pa and with different deposition times. This transformation could not be attributed to an oxidation of the films as stated by RBS, but was correlated with a progressive modification of the roughness, surface, and bulk morphology of the samples over the deposition time. Hence, the evolution in the final optical properties of the films is driven by different growth mechanisms and the resulting microstructures. In addition to the originally addressed CSP applications the potential of the developed aluminium films for other application rather than CSP, such as, for example, reference material for spectroscopic diffuse reflectance measurements, is also discussed.
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