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.
Dr. Julia Hsu: 'If you need to anneal the material for minutes, sometimes hours, that's going to slow down how fast you can make flexible film. We want to make films fast so that we can take advantage of the economy of scale.'
Hsu likened the traditional annealing process to cooking a long pizza that moves on a conveyer slowly through an oven. To make pizza faster, the time in the oven must be reduced. Also, heating the pizza to too high of a temperature would damage the crust.
'My group is looking at using millisecond light pulses to convert materials instead of using conventional heating processes to do the annealing', said Hsu.
The research was conducted in collaboration with NovaCentrix, an Austin, Texas-based company that makes photonic curing equipment. Photonic curing is a novel technology that is currently used to sinter, or coalesce, printed metal nanoparticles.
The UT Dallas researchers are the first to use photonic curing to process both the perovskite and the oxide layers in the thin film at the same time.
The research was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under the Solar Energy Technologies Office, which provided a $200,000 grant (DE-EE0008544) to Hsu in 2019 as part of an initiative to develop and test new ways to accelerate the integration of emerging technologies into the solar industry.
Hsu was awarded a new $800,000 grant (DE-EE0009518) from the agency in 2021 to apply photonic curing to fabricating flexible, transparent electrodes that will enhance the commercial viability of perovskite solar panels. The DOE's goal is to increase the use of solar energy and cut the cost of its generation in half by 2030.
Hsu's new project will be in collaboration with NovaCentrix and Energy Materials Corp., a Rochester, New York-based company that specializes in roll-to-roll manufacturing of perovskite solar panels.