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:
A team of researchers, led by the University of Sydney, have used a new approach that could be the key to producing low cost and environmentally friendly perovskite solar cells, while achieving a new efficiency milestone for these cells.
The researchers said they had made crucial improvements to the process of ‘gas quenching’ to fabricate perovskite thin films. The research team successfully demonstrated a steady-state conversion efficiency of 23.6%, which they claim is the highest efficiency achieved for perovskite solar cells produced using the ‘gas quenching’ technique.
Meyer Burger is considering legal options to enforce its rights after Oxford PV announces unilateral termination of the collaboration
Earlier this month, Oxford PV announced the completion of the build-out of its manufacturing site in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany. Oxford PV concluded that announcement by saying that "With the achievement of this factory milestone, Oxford PV has terminated its exclusive relationship with Meyer Burger".
Meyer Burger Technology was informed of the termination of partnership (in place since 2019) through the press release (as well as a letter from Oxford Photovoltaics). In view of the unexpected announcement of termination by Oxford PV, Meyer Burger is reportedly considering legal options to enforce its rights.
University of Texas at Dallas researchers, led by Dr. Julia Hsu, have shown that a technique called photonic curing can be used to manufacture perovskite solar cells faster than other current methods.
Hsu’s research aims to solve a problem that has impeded large-scale manufacturing of flexible electronics and solar panels: the need to reduce the amount of time for the slowest part of production, called annealing. In this stage, the thin film must be heated to high temperatures, a step that can sometimes take hours and make production costly.
A team of scientists at EPFL has come up with an efficient solution to the lead problem of perovskite solar cells, which involves using a transparent phosphate salt that does not block solar light and hence doesn't affect performance.
In case the solar panel fails, the phosphate salt immediately reacts with lead to produce a water-insoluble compound that cannot leach out to the soil, and which can be recycled.
University of Arizona scientists have developed a new printing process called Restricted Area Printing by Ink Drawing, or RAPID, and received a three-year, $700,000 grant from the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to advance the method.
Adam Printz, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Arizona, along with his team, started developing the perovskite printing process in late 2019, and they’ve been able to demonstrate on a small scale with 3D-printed parts how it works – using “whatever they had lying around in the lab.” This funding enables them to create a more reproducible and scalable version.