Article last updated on: Feb 16, 2019

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.

Perovskite solar cell market image

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 cell image

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).

What’s next?

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.

The latest perovskite solar news:

Chinese researchers use excimer laser to improve perovskite solar cells

Researchers at the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science obtained excellent performance of perovskite solar cells (or PSCs) by excimer laser.

Several problem hinder the progress of PSCs. For example, surface defects decrease their performance, and the preparation process of the common ETL of PSCs requires annealing and crystallization at 400 – 500 °C, which exceeds the temperature that the common flexible substrates can withstand, and restricts the development of flexible PSCs. To address the above problems, scientists introduced excimer laser into the research of perovskite solar cells (PSCs).

KAUST team reports 26.2% PCE for 4T perovskite/silicon tandems enabled by IZRO electrodes

Parasitic absorption in transparent electrodes is one of the main roadblocks to enabling power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) for perovskite‐based tandem solar cells beyond 30%. To reduce such losses and maximize light coupling, the broadband transparency of such electrodes should be improved, especially at the front of the device.

Improves NIR response in si/per tandems image

Erkan Aydin and coworkers from KAUST Photovoltaics Laboratory have recently shown the excellent properties of Zr‐doped indium oxide (IZRO) transparent electrodes for such applications, with improved near‐infrared (NIR) response compared to conventional tin‐doped indium oxide (ITO) electrodes. Optimized IZRO films feature very high electron mobility (up to ≈77 cm2 V−1 s−1), enabling highly infrared transparent films with a very low sheet resistance (≈18 Ω −1 for annealed 100 nm films). For devices, this translates to a parasitic absorption of only ≈5% for IZRO within the solar spectrum (250–2500 nm range), to be compared with ≈10% for commercial ITO.

The new EPKI initiative will push forward perovskite technologies

For the purpose of decarbonizing the energy-mix, which is becoming a priority challenge for European countries among others, European universities, research institutes and industries involved in the development of perovskite technologies have agreed on the creation of a collaborative platform: the EPKI.

Soliiance forms EPKI partnership image

This initiative is dedicated to gathering all significant parties working in this field and is pursuing the following objectives:

  • Raise the awareness on perovskite based photovoltaics by conveying a common vision through the editing of a common European perovskite whitepaper,
  • Support and initiate next generation PV industrial initiatives,
  • Facilitate joint-research programs and synergies among universities, institutes and companies.

University of Toledo team reports breakthrough in new material for all perovskite tandem solar cells

Researchers from the University of Toledo have reported progress that may push the performance of tandem perovskite solar cells to new levels. Working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab and the University of Colorado, Dr. Yanfa Yan, UToledo professor of physics, envisions that the new high efficiency tandem perovskite solar cell will be ready to debut in full-sized solar panels in the consumer market in the near future.

"We are producing higher-efficiency, lower-cost solar cells that show great promise to help solve the world energy crisis," Yan said. "The meaningful work will help protect our planet for our children and future generations. We have a problem consuming most of the fossil energies right now, and our collaborative team is focused on refining our innovative way to clean up the mess."

Eindhoven team finds that the addition of fluoride boosts the stability of perovskite solar cells

Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have found a way to address the issue of stability in perovskite solar cells by adding a small amount of fluoride during the production process, which was found to increase the stability of such cells.

Fluoride stabilizes perovskite solar cells imageFluoride stablizes perovskite solar cells by encouraging the formation of strong hydrogen bonds and ionic bonds on the surface of the perovskite material.

The scientists found the fluoride ions form a protective layer around perovskite crystals, preventing the ill effects of light, heat and moisture. "Our work has improved the stability of perovskite solar cells considerably," said Shuxia Tao, assistant professor at Eindhoven University of Technology's Center for Computational Energy Research. "Our cells maintain 90% of their efficiency after 1,000 hours under extreme light and heat conditions. This is many times as long as traditional perovskite compounds. We achieve an efficiency of 21.3%, which is a very good starting point for further efficiency gains."