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.
The latest perovskite solar news:
A team led by Prof. Steve Albrecht from the HZB has announced a new world-record: a tandem solar cell with certified efficiency of 23.26% that combines the semiconducting materials perovskite and CIGS. One reason for this success lies in the cell’s intermediate layer of organic molecules: they self-organize to cover even rough semiconductor surfaces. Two patents have been filed for these layers.
Perovskite-based solar cells have experienced an incredibly rapid increase in efficiency over the last ten years. The combination of perovskites with classical semiconductor materials such as silicon and copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) compounds in tandem solar cells promises low-cost, high-performance solar modules for the future. However, losses at the electrodes between the two semiconductors considerably reduce the efficiency.
Flexible tandem perovskite/CIGS solar cells with 23% conversion efficiency reported by Solliance and MiaSolé
Solliance and U.S-based MiaSolé announced a new record - power conversion efficiency of 23% on a flexible tandem solar cell: a top flexible semi-transparent perovskite solar cell with a bottom flexible copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cell.
This achievement comes only 9 months after the January 2019 announcement by Solliance and MiaSolé regarding a flexible solar cell with an impressive power conversion efficiency of 21.5%. The solar cell, similarly to this newly announced one, combined two thin-film solar cell technologies into a 4 terminal tandem solar cell stack: a top flexible semi-transparent perovskite solar cell with a bottom flexible copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cell.
Several research institutions in South Korea are actively conducting research and development on next-generation solar cells, heightening expectations for commercialization. The research team led by Prof. Yoon Soon-gil of Chungnam National University has developed a new graphene electrode to produce perovskite solar cells at a low temperature. In addition, the team led by Prof. Choi Kyoung-jin of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at UNIST has developed a new concept tandem solar cell using transparent conductive adhesives (TCA).
The graphene electrode developed by Professor Yoon’s team can help create a perovskite solar cell at a low temperature and can raise both safety and economic efficiency.
German university the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Würtetemburg (ZSW) and CIGS module manufacturer Nice Solar Energy have announced an ambition to design tandem PV modules based on CIGS and perovskite, which can theoretically achieve efficiencies well above 30%.
The joint ‘Capitano’ project will run for three years and has received more than €5 million from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The aim of the project is to develop cells with stable higher efficiencies, which can be interconnected to form efficient tandem solar modules.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) have reportedly broken new ground in solar cell energy efficiency and in the process provided a glimpse of the technology’s future. The researchers have a announced a record of 21.6% efficiency, which they say is the highest achieved for perovskite cells above a certain size.
Associate Professor Thomas White says as a comparison, typical solar panels being installed on rooftops right now have efficiencies of 17-18%. “There are three things you’re trying to achieve with solar cells, you’re trying to make them efficient, stable and cheap," he said. "Perovskites are the future of solar cells."