Article last updated on: Dec 01, 2020

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.

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:

Research team uses spray pyrolysis deposition to fabricate perovskite solar cells based on a titanium oxide electron transport layer

Researchers from Kanazawa University and Tokai University in Japan, in collaboration with other institutes, have developed a perovskite solar cell based on a titanium oxide (TiO2) compact electron transport layer (ETL), which they claim is the most efficient PV device of its kind to be produced at the research level to date.

They researchers used a spray pyrolysis deposition (SPD) technique, which is generally used for temperature decomposition of organic material in the absence of oxygen. This process is known to provide excellent rate capability and high cycling stability. It is used in the chemical industry to produce ethylene, carbon and chemicals from petroleum, coal and even wood, in addition to producing coke from coal.

Researchers show that manipulation of antisolvent application rate can help create efficient and reproducible PSCs

Researchers from the Emerging Electronic Technologies Group of Prof. Yana Vaynzof at Germany's Technische Universität Dresden have found that fundamental processes that occur during perovskite film formation strongly influence the reproducibility of the photovoltaic devices.

When depositing the perovskite layer from solution, an antisolvent is dripped onto the perovskite solution to trigger its crystallization. "We found that the duration for which the perovskite was exposed to the antisolvent had a dramatic impact on the final device performance, a variable which had, until now, gone unnoticed in the field." says Dr. Alexander Taylor, a postdoctoral research associate in the Vaynzof group and the first author on the study. "This is related to the fact that certain antisolvents may at least partly dissolve the precursors of the perovskite layer, thus altering its final composition. Additionally, the miscibility of antisolvents with the perovskite solution solvents influences their efficacy in triggering crystallization."

Researchers design automatic light-adjusting electrochromic devices powered by perovskite solar cells

Scientists from the Southern University of Science and Technology in China have developed an automatic light-adjusting electrochromic device (ECD), powered by a perovskite solar cell (PSC), which they say can be used for all-day intelligent-curtains, and advanced electronic displays.

Schematic diagrams of device configurations and working principles of PSCs-powered ECS image

Electrochromic devices are able to reversibly change colors in response to an electric field and generally consist of multi-layer structures with transparent conductors, electrochromic films, ion conductors, and ion storage films. Although these devices are capable of modulating their light absorption under a small driving voltage, the requirement for external electrical supplies causes response-lag.

Interntional team designs new process for identifying optimal perovskite materials

An international interdisciplinary team, led by MIT, has designed a new approach to narrowing the search for the best candidates for long-lasting perovskite formulations.

A data fusion approach to optimize compositional stability of halide perovskites image

Their system has already identified one composition that in the lab has improved on existing versions more than tenfold. Even under real-world conditions at full solar cell level, beyond just a small sample in a lab, this type of perovskite has reportedly performed three times better than the state-of-the-art formulations.

U.S DoE sets ambitious goals to cut solar costs and invests $128 Million in solar initiatives and technologies

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) recently announced an ambitious new target to cut the cost of solar energy by 60% within the next ten years, in addition to nearly $128 million in funding to lower costs, improve performance, and speed the deployment of solar energy technologies.

To that end, the DoE has allocated funding through its Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), to support advancing two materials used to make solar cells: perovskites and cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin films.