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 comprehensive defect suppression strategy in perovskite nanocrystals could yield high-efficiency LEDs
A collaboration between University of Pennsylvania, Seoul National University, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the University of Tennessee, the University of Cambridge, the Universitat de Valencia, the Harbin Institute of Technology, and the University of Oxford has yielded an understanding of how a class of electroluminescent perovskite materials can be designed to work more efficiently.
This latest work is based on a past endeavor by Penn theoretical chemist Andrew M. Rappe and Tae-Woo Lee at Seoul National University to develop a theory to help explain experimental results. The material that was studied was formamidinium lead bromide, a type of metal-halide perovskite nanocrystal (PNC). Results collected by the Lee group seemed to indicate that green LEDs made with this material were working more efficiently than expected. “As soon as I saw their data, I was amazed by the correlation between the structural, optical, and light-efficiency results. Something special had to be going on,” says Rappe.
Oxford PV has reached a new efficiency world record for perovskite-silicon tandem cells at 29.52%, passing the previous record set less than a year ago by Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin. The new record has been certified by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The new record was achieved on a cell measuring 1.12cm², produced in a laboratory setting. Oxford PV previously held the tandem cell efficiency record at 27.3%, and then 28%, before a group at Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) pushed the record to 29.15% in January 2020. Both Oxford PV and HZB have stated that they have clear roadmaps to push this record beyond 30% in the near future.
Researchers report high-efficiency perovskite solar cells with imidazolium-based ionic liquid for surface passivation and charge transport
A research team, led by Prof. LIU Shengzhong from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), recently reported high-efficiency perovskite solar cells with imidazolium-based ionic liquid for surface passivation and charge transport.
The quality of perovskite film plays a key role in device performance. Perovskite films are usually prepared by evaporating solvent from the precursor solution. However, defects often occur at the grain boundaries and on the surface during the crystallization process. These defects cause perovskite decomposition and non-radiative recombination, causing negative impacts on device performance. Surface passivation is considered as one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of defects due to its ease of application.
U.S -based developer of all-perovskite tandem solar cells, Swift Solar, recently announced that it secured more than $8 million in Series Seed 2 funding, with an additional $1.5 million expected to close soon. Altogether, the company has raised more than $16 million in equity financing to date.
The financing round was led by GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij and cryptocurrency player James Fickel. Proceeds will be used to expand R&D, develop prototypes and add staff.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) have quantified losses in PV‐based solar hydrogen generation systems and have proposed a series of loss-mitigation techniques to improve solar‐to‐hydrogen (STH) conversion efficiencies.
The scientists identified STH efficiency as the crucial factor that needs to be improved to reduce the overall costs of PV-powered hydrogen generation. “The U.S. Department of Energy has set a target of 20% STH efficiency by 2020 and an ultimate goal of 25%, to ensure the economic viability of PV‐based solar hydrogen generation for large scale hydrogen production,” they specified, adding that current efficiency levels range from 10-15%.