What are perovskite?
Perovskites are a class of materials that share a similar structure, which display a myriad of exciting properties like superconductivity, magnetoresistance and more. These easily synthesized materials are considered the future of solar cells, as their distinctive structure makes them perfect for enabling low-cost, efficient photovoltaics. They are also predicted to play a role in next-gen electric vehicle batteries, sensors, lasers and much more.
How does the PV market look today?
In general, Photovoltaic (PV) technologies can be viewed as divided into two main categories: wafer-based PV (also called 1st generation PVs) and thin-film cell PVs. Traditional crystalline silicon (c-Si) cells (both single crystalline silicon and multi-crystalline silicon) and gallium arsenide (GaAs) cells belong to the wafer-based PVs, with c-Si cells dominating the current PV market (about 90% market share) and GaAs exhibiting the highest efficiency.
Thin-film cells normally absorb light more efficiently than silicon, allowing the use of extremely thin films. Cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology has been successfully commercialized, with more than 20% cell efficiency and 17.5% module efficiency record and such cells currently hold about 5% of the total market. Other commercial thin-film technologies include hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) and copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) cells, taking approximately 2% market share each today. Copper zinc tin sulphide technology has been under R&D for years and will probably require some time until actual commercialization.
What is a perovskite solar cell?
An emerging thin-film PV class is being formed, also called 3rd generation PVs, which refers to PVs using technologies that have the potential to overcome current efficiency and performance limits or are based on novel materials. This 3rd generation of PVs includes DSSC, organic photovoltaic (OPV), quantum dot (QD) PV and perovskite PV.
A perovskite solar cell is a type of solar cell which includes a perovskite structured compound, most commonly a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer. Perovskite materials such as methylammonium lead halides are cheap to produce and relatively simple to manufacture. Perovskites possess intrinsic properties like broad absorption spectrum, fast charge separation, long transport distance of electrons and holes, long carrier separation lifetime, and more, that make them very promising materials for solid-state solar cells.
Perovskite solar cells are, without a doubt, the rising star in the field of photovoltaics. They are causing excitement within the solar power industry with their ability to absorb light across almost all visible wavelengths, exceptional power conversion efficiencies already exceeding 20% in the lab, and relative ease of fabrication. Perovskite solar cells still face several challenge, but much work is put into facing them and some companies, are already talking about commercializing them in the near future.
What are the advantages of Perovskite solar cells?
Put simply, perovskite solar cells aim to increase the efficiency and lower the cost of solar energy. Perovskite PVs indeed hold promise for high efficiencies, as well as low potential material & reduced processing costs. A big advantage perovskite PVs have over conventional solar technology is that they can react to various different wavelengths of light, which lets them convert more of the sunlight that reaches them into electricity.
Moreover, they offer flexibility, semi-transparency, tailored form factors, light-weight and more. Naturally, electronics designers and researchers are certain that such characteristics will open up many more applications for solar cells.
What is holding perovskite PVs back?
Despite its great potential, perovskite solar cell technology is still in the early stages of commercialization compared with other mature solar technologies as there are a number of concerns remaining.
One problem is their overall cost (for several reasons, mainly since currently the most common electrode material in perovskite solar cells is gold), and another is that cheaper perovskite solar cells have a short lifespan. Perovskite PVs also deteriorate rapidly in the presence of moisture and the decay products attack metal electrodes. Heavy encapsulation to protect perovskite can add to the cell cost and weight. Scaling up is another issue - reported high efficiency ratings have been achieved using small cells, which is great for lab testing, but too small to be used in an actual solar panel.
A major issue is toxicity - a substance called PbI is one of the breakdown products of perovskite. This is known to be toxic and there are concerns that it may be carcinogenic (although this is still an unproven point). Also, many perovskite cells use lead, a massive pollutant. Researchers are constantly seeking substitutions, and have already made working cells using tin instead. (with efficiency at only 6%, but improvements will surely follow).
While major challenges indeed exist, perovskite solar cells are still touted as the PV technology of the future, and much development work and research are put into making this a reality. Scientists and companies are working towards increasing efficiency and stability, prolonging lifetime and replacing toxic materials with safer ones. Researchers are also looking at the benefits of combining perovskites with other technologies, like silicon for example, to create what is referred to as “tandem cells”.
Commercial activity in the field of perovskite PV
In September 2015, Australia-based organic PV and perovskite solar cell (PSC) developer Dyesol declared a major breakthrough in perovskite stability for solar applications. Dyesol claims to have made a significant breakthrough on small perovskite solar cells, with “meaningful numbers” of 10% efficient strip cells exhibiting less than 10% relative degradation when exposed to continuous light soaking for over 1000 hours. Dyesol was also awarded a $0.5 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to commercialize an innovative, very high efficiency perovskite solar cell.
Also in 2015, Saule Technologies signed an investment deal with Hideo Sawada, a Japanese investment company. Saule aims to combine perovskite solar cells with other currently available products, and this investment agreement came only a year after the company was launched.
In October 2020, Saule launched sunbreaker lamellas equipped with perovskite solar cells. The product is planned to soon be marketed across across Europe and potentially go global after that.
In August 2020, reports out of China suggested that a perovskite photovoltaic cell production line has gone into production in Quzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province. The 40-hectare factory was reportedly funded by Microquanta Semiconductor and expected to produce more than 200,000 square meters of photovoltaic glass before the end of 2020.
In September 2020, Oxford PV's Professor Henry Snaith stated that the Company's perovskite-based solar cells are scheduled to go on sale next year, probably by mid 2021. These will be perovskite solar cells integrated with standard silicon solar cells.
The latest perovskite solar news:
Researchers from Russia-based ITMO University and the University of Rome Tor Vergata have developed a paste made of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and resonant silicon nanoparticles, claimed to improve light absorption in perovskite solar cells based on methylammonium lead iodide (MAPbI3).
The scientists created a mesoporous electron transport layer based on optically resonant silicon nanoparticles which were then incorporated into TiO2 paste. “Such particles serve as nanoantennae – they catch light and it resonates inside them. And the longer light stays in the photoactive layer, the more of it is absorbed by the material,” said Sergey Makarov, professor at ITMO’s school of physics and engineering.
Ascent Solar enters agreement with TubeSolar to jointly develop high efficiency CIGS-Perovskite tandem PV cells
Ascent Solar Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of flexible thin-film photovoltaic solutions, has announced the signing of a Joint Development Agreement with German agrivoltaic thin-film solar tube maker, TubeSolar, to pursue the Agricultural-photovoltaics/Agrivoltaics (APV) market.
It was indicated that this JDA is a multi-million-dollar, long-term supply agreement, forming a strategic partnership between Ascent Solar and TubeSolar. This JDA includes (i) long-term supplier of customized PV (“PV Foils”) for TubeSolar, (ii) Non-Recurring Engineering Fee (“NRE Fee”) of up to $4 Million, payable by TubeSolar to Ascent Solar in three parts, (iii) establishment of a joint venture entity to develop a new manufacturing facility located in Germany (“JV FAB”), (iv) the Company will benefit from milestone payments by TubeSolar of up to $13.5 Million, and (v) joint development efforts in next generation, high efficiency CIGS-Perovskite tandem PV cells.
Researchers develop new vacuum deposition process that could reduce costs and allow excellent film quality
Researchers from Italy's CNR-IMM, Università del Salento, Università degli Studi di Catania and University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’ have developed an innovative vacuum deposition method to prepare thin CH3NH3PbI3 (MAPbI3) layers for semitransparent perovskite solar cells.
This new (patent pending) method to deposit thin perovskite layers for PSC under low vacuum conditions is called LV-PSE (low vacuum proximity space effusion) and can reportedly reduce costs and waste.
Skoltech researchers, along with colleagues from the RAS Institute for Problems of Chemical Physics, have synthesized a new conjugated polymer for organic electronics using two different chemical reactions and shown the impact of the two methods on its performance in organic and perovskite solar cells.
Perovskite solar cells have reached impressive certified record efficiencies, but long-term stability remains an issue. Recent research has shown that device stability can be improved by covering the photoactive perovskite material with a charge-extraction layer that provides efficient encapsulation. Among other materials, this protective function may be fulfilled by conjugated polymers.
Perovskite solar panels have been under intensive R&D, and it seems as if commercial production is right around the corner. Some pilot-scale production lines are already functional, and companies are now ramping up production of perovskite panels, using various technologies.
UK-based Oxford PV, for example, recently announced that it has completed the build-out of its 100 MW manufacturing site in Germany, and it is on track to start full production in 2022. China's Microquanta Semiconductor perovskite panel factory is reportedly also nearing production (which should have started late 2020, but updates have not been available since), and another China-based company, GCL, has raised around $15 million USD to expand its pilot-scale production factory to mass production (100 MW).