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Taking perovskites forwards: Three innovations in solar cell technology

Perovskite solar cells could turbocharge this shift towards a greener future. Three innovations are profiled.

Human cost of China's green energy rush ahead of Winter Olympics
China has vowed the upcoming Winter Olympics 2022 will be the first Games to be run entirely on wind and solar energy, and have built scores of facilities to increase capacity -- but activists warn ordinary people are being exploited - Copyright AFP GREG BAKER
China has vowed the upcoming Winter Olympics 2022 will be the first Games to be run entirely on wind and solar energy, and have built scores of facilities to increase capacity -- but activists warn ordinary people are being exploited - Copyright AFP GREG BAKER

In the past few months a number of advances with solar power technology have been reported, promising further improvements to this important technology (both in terms of reducing the impact of climate change and creating lower cost energy).

Three examples of solar technology innovation have been selected by Digital Journal. Each of these centres on perovskite, a material that has the same crystal structure as the mineral calcium titanium oxide. Perovskites can theoretically be used to create semiconductors with similar properties to silicon for solar cells and offer better performance. However, developmental issues remain. The three innovations are helping to push perovskites solar cells forwards.

Improving stability

Perovskites offer considerable hope for increasing the efficiency of solar modules. Until now, their short service life and stability have been considered the biggest hurdle to their practical use.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London have developed a new process for producing stable perovskite materials to create more efficient solar cells.

This is through the use of a perovskite material called formamidinium perovskite. This is a pure, black- coloured crystal structure termed FAPbI3. The material is more chemically stable than many other perovskites. In addition, its optical properties are better suited to absorb light and produce electricity efficiently in a solar cell than existing perovskite materials.

The new material helps address some weakness with perovskites, based on their sensitivity to moisture and oxygen leading to the risk of degradation in air.

The new material is outlined in the journal Advanced Materials (“Additive‐free, Low‐temperature Crystallization of Stable α ‐FAPbI 3 Perovskite”).

Improving efficiency

Scientists have developed a novel method to fabricate lead halide perovskite solar cells with record efficiency. The development comes from Technische Universität Dresden, Germany.

The breakthrough is based on metal halide perovskites and these perovskites have been demonstrated to have a high performance in optoelectronic devices like solar cells. Studies have demonstrated an improved energy payback time.

The efficiency of metal halide perovskites has been boosted through a new method. The method is based on a modification of the interfaces of the perovskite active layer by introducing small amounts of organic halide salts at both the bottom and the top of the perovskite layer.

This process leads to the suppression of microstructural flaws and passivation of the defects within a perovskite layer. The result is a far higher power conversion efficiency.

The development appears in the publication Science Advances (“23.7% Efficient inverted perovskite solar cells by dual interfacial modification”).

Commercial viability

Perovskite solar cells remain promising but one limitation with their commercialisation is with potential lead-toxicity issues. A new film-like material could overcome this toxicity risk.

Researchers at Northern Illinois University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory are discussing a potential breakthrough that could help speed commercialization of highly promising perovskite solar cells for use in solar panels.

This rests on a cost-effective Scotch-tape-like film that can be applied to perovskite solar cells and capture 99.9 percent of leaked lead in the event of solar cell damage. The film would help alleviate health and safety concerns without compromising perovskite solar-cell performance or operation.

The film has been reported to the journal Nature Sustainability, with the research headed “On-device lead-absorbing tapes for sustainable perovskite solar cells.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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