Solar technology is both widely available and expensive, but new research is beginning to change the outlook for the solar industry. Solar clocks and outdoor lighting are relatively cheap, and they’ve been widely available for decades. But solar panels for homes aren’t so cheap, and installation and maintenance aren’t, either.
That’s why continuing research is so important. The source of solar power — the sun — is ever-present. What’s needed is an efficient, affordable way to harness it. But with perovskite — a calcium titanium oxide mineral composed of calcium titanate — technology might finally have made a giant leap forward.
Perovskite Technology is Rapidly Improving
Perovskite was discovered in the 1800s, but it would be generations before it was used in solar technology. In fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that perovskite was first applied to solar cells. Unfortunately, efficiency was very low. Early cells only converted about 4 percent of the sunlight collected into usable energy, according to Ilan Mester of engineering.com.
While 4 percent isn’t impressive, the technology and the potential for improvement is remarkable. Silicon wafers, which are used in traditional solar cells, haven’t improved much in recent years, but the opposite is true of perovskite technology. Since 2009, Mester says they’ve improved to 20 percent efficiency, a number that’s getting a lot of attention from researchers.
The Traditional Coating Approach Causes Problems
Using perovskite in solar technology usually requires heat to bond the minerals with the film substrate. Early cells needed temperatures of up to 150 degrees Celsius to create the bond, but Mester explains that heat caused two problems.
First, the perovskite minerals bonded with the film randomly and unevenly, which created a film that varied in thickness throughout. And second, the excessive heat usually created numerous pinholes throughout the film. Another problem with heat was that it limited the types of substrates that could be used to make solar cell film.
Solvents Could be the Perovskite Game-Changer
With heat a known barrier to creating the quality of solar film that scientists want, it’s only a matter of time before researchers find viable alternatives. For one, Yuanyuan Zhou, a graduate student at Brown University, has experimented with a “solvent-solvent extraction” (SSE) method.
This method uses two solvents, as the name implies. The first solvent dissolves perovskite precursors, which are then applied to the film. The second solvent removes the first solvent, and all that remains on the film is a uniform coating of crystals. No heat, no irregularities, no pinholes.
There’s another reason why this “solution-solution” resolution is so important, and that’s the way that it makes mass production of perovskite solar film much more attainable. With the heat method, scientists need an hour for each treatment. Using solutions, the time is reduced to about 2 minutes. If this latest perovskite research is any indication, affordable solar power is not an unrealistic goal.
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