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:
New "demonstrator project" at EPFL-Sion Campus will test perovskite solar tech in real life conditions
The EPFL launched a new project, supported by the Valais State Government with 5 million Swiss Francs, to realize a "demonstrator project" at EPFL-Sion Campus Energypolis.
Sized at the canton or district level, these installations will enable the testing of technologies developed in the laboratories of EPFL Valais-Wallis in real conditions, with the collaboration of local partners and the HES-SO Valais-Wallis.
A Florida State University research team has addressed perovskite solar cells' stability issue by mixing the old with the new. Professor of Chemistry Biwu Ma and his team published a new study that shows if you add a layer of ancient organic pigment to a perovskite solar cell, it increases the stability and efficiency of the cell.
“Pigments are abundant, low cost and robust,” Ma said. “When we combine them with perovskites, we can generate new high-performance hybrid systems. It’s using the old with the new, and together they produce something really exciting.”
HZB team paves the way for improved ink design to enable industrial-scale manufacturing of perovskite thin films
An HZB team at BESSY II recently analyzed the crystallization processes within optimized inks used for the production of metal-halide perovskite thin-films for photovoltaic modules . A model has also been developed to assess the kinetics of the crystallization processes for different solvent mixtures. The results could be of high importance for the further development of perovskite inks for industrial-scale deposition processes of these semiconductors.
For the production of larger area photovoltaic modules, the team of Dr. Eva Unger develops printing and coating processes in which the perovskite semiconductor is processed from inks containing the precursors dissolved in solvents. The composition of the ink determines the material formation mechanism with the solvent affecting the process by its rheological properties, evaporation rate and participation in intermediate phases. "Our research question in this project was: How can we rationalize the difference in crystallization kinetics when using different solvents," explains Unger, who heads the Young Investigator Group Hybrid Materials Formation and Scaling.
POTECH team designed highly efficient and stable PSC materials using an organic spacer molecular additive
Researchers at POSTECH recently developed an organic spacer molecular additive that can improve both the photoelectric efficiency and stability of perovskites.
The POSTECH team, led by Professor Kilwon Cho and Ph.D. candidate Sungwon Song of the Department of Chemical Engineering, succeeded in fabricating perovskite solar cells that are highly efficient and stable by drastically reducing the concentration of internal defects in the crystals as well as increasing the moisture resistance of perovskite by introducing a new organic spacer molecule additive in the perovskite crystal.
A research team at Stanford University has designed a new perovskite manufacturing process. In their work, the team demonstrated an ultrafast way to produce stable perovskite cells and assemble them into solar modules that could power devices, buildings and even the electricity grid.
“This work provides a new milestone for perovskite manufacturing,” said study senior author Reinhold Dauskardt, the Ruth G. and William K. Bowes Professor in the Stanford School of Engineering. “It resolves some of the most formidable barriers to module-scale manufacturing that the community has been dealing with for years.”