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 design stable inverted perovskite solar cells with 22.1% efficiency using a star-shaped polymer
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Northwestern Polytechnical University in China have fabricated an inverted perovskite solar cell based on a star-shaped polymer that can reportedly improve charge transport and inhibit ion migration at the perovskite interface.
The cell has a “p-i-n” layout and is based on a perovskite material known as CsMAFA modified with a polymer called polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane-poly(trifluoroethyl methacrylate)-b-poly(methyl methacrylate) or simply PPP polymer.
Researchers see microfluidic processing as a pathway to producing flexible printed solar cells on an industrial scale
Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science have identified a way to create Nickel oxide (NiO) films of sufficient quality in solution and at relatively low temperatures of less than 150 degrees Celsius.
NiO is used as an inexpensive hole-transport layer in perovskite solar cells because of its favorable optical properties and long-term stability. However, making high-quality NiO films for solar cells usually requires an energy intensive and high-temperature treatment process called thermal annealing, which is not only costly, but also incompatible with plastic substrates, until now precluding the use of NiO in the proposed manufacture of printed photovoltaics at commercial scale.
Japan-based Green Science Alliance, which develops next-generation technologies for use in energy as well as in other fields, has invested in a Kyoto University start-up focused on perovskite solar cell research — EneCoat Technologies.
EneCoat is working on more efficient and durable perovskite cells while also looking to develop lead-free perovskite cells.
Researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, in collaboration with University of Toronto, the National University of Singapore and National Technical University of Athens, have designed monolithic tandem solar cell with power conversion efficiency of 27%, surpassing the previous best reported value of 22% in the same configuration.
The team explains that translating the high power conversion efficiencies of single-junction perovskite solar cells in their classic, non-inverted (n–i–p) architecture to efficient monolithic n–i–p perovskite/silicon tandem solar cells with high current densities has been a persistent challenge due to the lack of low-temperature processable, chemically-insoluble contact materials with appropriate polarity and sufficient optical transparency. To address this, they developed sputtered amorphous niobium oxide (a-NbOx) with ligand-bridged C60 as an efficient electron-selective contact, deposited on the textured-silicon bottom cell.
CubicPV is said to be in talks with the Indian government to participate in the performance linked incentives (PLI) scheme for solar equipment manufacturers. CubicPV was established as a result of a collaboration between Hunt Perovskite Technologies and 1366 Technologies.
CubicPV reportedly plans to invest $1.1 billion to set up 10 GW solar wafer and cells manufacturing capacity in India over the next five years. Frank Van Mierlo, CEO of CubicPV, said that the company is planning to bring its innovative products in the solar equipment category, such as wafers and semiconductors, to India.