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Solar Panels
January 14, 2020

This material could squeeze more energy from solar panels

Research teams in Australia and China are inching closer toward a solar cell design that could revolutionize the industry, but plenty of hurdles remain.

The key lies with perovskite, a crystalline structure first discovered in Russia in the mid-1800s. Engineers want to use the material to build cheaper and more efficient solar panels—potentially in tandem with silicon-based panels, which are popular and more durable.

“There’s a lot of emphasis now on improving efficiency, and that’s why there’s suddenly these tandem approaches,” said Thomas White, a research scientist and professor at the Australian National University (ANU).

Another reason, he said: “It’s getting harder and harder to squeeze the manufacturing costs down.”

White and others say the key to advancements lies with improving energy conversion efficiency—the degree to which a panel converts energy from sunlight directly into electricity.

Silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels typically see efficiency rates of 16% to 18%, and the theoretical limit for silicon PV efficiency is 29%, researchers say.

Studies suggest a perovskite solar panel could achieve efficiencies as high as 35%, while also reducing costs through cutting out some steps in the manufacturing process.

“The beauty of them is you can process them from solution,” White said in an interview. “Unlike silicon, where you have to go through this very industrialized refinement to get very high purity silicon, these materials we buy effectively as a powder, we mix them into a solvent, and then we can spin coat them or coat them in very thin layers onto a glass substrate, and that potentially makes them very cheap if you can scale it up.”

The potential has attracted attention—and support.

Keep reading on ScientificAmerican.com

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