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:
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."
Researchers from the KAUST Solar Center have monitored the impact of compositional changes on the structural organization and photovoltaic properties of perovskite thin films in situ. The team has reached a conclusion that may benefit perovskite solar cells in the future - that changes in composition affect light-harvesting layer crystallization and perovskite solar cell efficiency.
Solar cell performance and stability depend on the morphology of the thin films, especially their ability to crystallize in the so-called photoactive α-phase. Perovskites that contain lead tend to combine various halides, such as the anionic forms of bromine and iodine, with mixtures of methylammonium, formamidinium, cesium and other cations. These have led to record conversion efficiencies and thermal stabilities compared with their single-halide, single-cation analogs. However, these mixed-halide, mixed-cation perovskite films have been characterized only through ex-situ postdeposition techniques. This limits the understanding of the mechanisms that govern their growth from their sol-gel precursor to their solid state and stalls attempts to improve device performance and stability.
Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan have found a new way to successfully detect the efficiency of crystal semiconductors. For the first time, the team used a specific kind of photoluminescence spectroscopy, a way to detect light, to characterize the semiconductors. The emitted light energy was used as an indicator of the crystal's quality. This method will potentially yield more efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), solar cells and several other advances in electronics.
"For further development of perovskite-based devices, it is essential to quantitatively evaluate the absolute efficiency in high-quality perovskite crystals without assuming any predefined physical model is of particular importance," said corresponding author Kazunobu Kojima, Associate Professor at Tohoku University, Japan. "Our method is new and unique because previous methods have relied on efficiency estimation by model-dependent analyses of photoluminescence."
An international research team, including scientists from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), has found a stable that efficiently creates electricity and could be extremely beneficial for perovskite solar cells.
The researchers show how the material CsPbI3, an inorganic perovskite, has been stabilized in a new configuration capable of reaching high conversion efficiencies. This configuration is noteworthy as stabilizing these materials has historically been a challenge.
India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has invited project proposals from industrial players, startups and R&D labs for high-efficiency perovskite solar cells, solar panel recycling, hybrid inverters and new applications that combine solar and storage, among others.
Specific R&D areas include the processes for segregating different components of end-of-life PV modules, as well as the recycling of glass. Research will also focus on grid-tied inverters that are suitable for the Indian grid and the country’s environmental conditions, in addition to hybrid inverters with capacities of up to 500 KVA, electronics for HT grid stabilization that incorporate storage batteries, and high-efficiency perovskite solar cells on single- and multicrystalline silicon substrates.