Perovskite: the Bond villain at the head of the new solar cell revolution

blofeld and soolar panel

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a pussy and some solar panels, yesterday.

One of the great enjoyments in writing this blog is the opportunity it gives me to bring you news about the latest innovation in solar energy. From breakthroughs in solar cell technology to improvements in solar lifestyle, to the latest progress in solar farms, advancements in the research labs, universities and science organisations never seem to end.

However this week sees not a new discovery but the return of an old SolarQuotes favourite: perovskite. More specifically the role it will play in the future of photovoltaics and solar energy generation.

Favourite? Well yes, for two reasons. We’ve written before on the potential game changing aspects of perovskite in solar cell technology and — just as importantly — because the mineral sounds so much like it escaped from a James Bond film.

This is underlined by the fact that it was first discovered in the Ural Mountains over a hundred years ago.

The material has a number of advantages: its relative abundance, which helps to reduce costs, its natural ability to absorb light and its incredible versatility which is bringing the possibility of spray on solar cells out of science fiction and closer to reality.

The latest perovskite breakthrough has come from the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology and Sungkyunkwan University who now claim to have increased the efficiency of perovskite-based solar cells to 17.9 percent. Representing a quantum leap in performance from 2009 when the figure was a mere 3.8 percent, the team claim to have found the right blend with other materials to promote maximum efficiency.

However a great deal of work remains to be done in the research labs before perovskite can take its place as the photovoltaic material of choice. As the 8th January Phys.org article points out, scientists need to overcome the mineral’s tendency to degrade if exposed to water or light, giving them a neglible life span compared to silicon-based cells. Obviously quite a problem for the building blocks of a solar cell!

But there’s real excitement over the future role of perovskites in the future of solar technology. Partly this is because of the speed of the improvement in efficiency rates. As Jon Major, Research Fellow at University of Liverpool, says in this 2014 article for The Conversation, solar cells only really came into existence in 2012 yet are already clocking up conversions of light of more than 19 percent efficiency.

This speed of improvement has shown there is a race between perovskite and silicon solar cells to find the substance with the best cost to power efficiency. Will perovskite lead the way and take over from silicon as some suggest?

Or perhaps it will a combination of the two that will prove to be the ultimate gold medallist in PV conversion efficiency? For it is this option that is proposed by researchers at Stanford University. According to recent studies conducted by the team, and published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, a sandwich-style combination of the two has a number of benefits.

“Making low-cost tandems is very desirable,” said Prof. Michael McGehee, from Stanford’s Science and Engineering department. “You simply put one solar cell on top of the other, and you get more efficiency than either could do by itself. From a commercial standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to use silicon for the bottom cell. Until recently, we didn’t have a good material for the top cell, then perovskites came along.”

Whether as a stand alone, or as part of a solar-fuelled club sandwich, it seems our old friend the Bond villain will play a leading role in the future of solar cell efficiency and lead the way to more cost reductions and innovation in solar energy. But perhaps the jury’s still out on whether it will completely take over from silicon? Your thoughts please.

Comments

  1. Bond Villain? Golly that got my attention – I’d like to ask about the Urals connection Rich. Does that give our nice Mr. Putin a monopoly?

  2. I wonder if dyesol (which was _forced_ into ‘sandwich mode’) is exploring the possibilities of perovskite? Could this possibly help explain today’s 2.5%+ spike?

  3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
    The figures/comments you provide suggest this perovskite is not a fundamental step-up from silicon/new technology. But, after oxygen, silicon is the most abundant element in the earth’s crust. What’s the point of creating yet another industry that offers no improvement? (and, apparently, having to suck up to the Russians for the resource?) Much as I enjoy innovation excitement about this stuff seems overblown.
    I’m old enough to remember an old advertising slogan that became a piece of household folklore:-
    When you’re on a good thing, stick to it!
    Though, cynic that I am, I note Louie and his descendents are still plentiful.

    Now…if they could develop a solar panel that zapped any blowies within, say, 10 metres THAT would be a development worth getting excited about.
    …….unless, of course, you’re a blowie. 😉

    • It is an excellent question Alex. My research suggests that, though originally discovered in the Urals, it has now become quite a common mineral the world over. Which would mean the man painted as the latter day Bond villain Mr Putin hasn’t got control as he has for European gas.

      • Thanks Rich. As well as being a mad clean energy fan I am very interested in the whole industrial cycle of panels.

        Not much good to have a wild efficiency if it ties you in to a toxic material which will be a recycling nightmare at the end of its life. Or one that is as conflicting as rare minerals in Africa, the Urals…etc!

    • Your an ideas man Jason! And what a great idea!

  4. Blowflies? A flagon with a 5mm hole punched cleanly in the cap, 10cm water in it, with a fishhead, mouse or any other old raw meat scrap. We have over fifty of these, killing tens of thousands of blowies every summer; many flagons completely full of ’em. Emptied around our fruit trees in early spring, they increase fruit yield measurably… .

    • Too cruel for words; typical of rural brutality.
      Farmers are like that though ~ numbingly insensitive.
      …and whingers!

  5. You’d rather spray blowflies with a toxic chemical, Jason? No stereotypical response about city folk from me. I _know_ a few farmers and none deserve your insensitive slagging. Your incorrect supposition (that I’m a farmer*) is almost as amusing as your concern for blowflies… and no doubt roaches, fleas, lice and the complete gamut of pest and feral species. I’ll save you a large greenbottle as a pet if you like… 🙂

    * Based on our home orchard, no doubt. 😉

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  1. […] — which refers to the type of crystal structure of the material — has been the focus of some excitement in photovoltaic circles as a more efficient replacement for silicon. There have been questions […]

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