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Clean Power NREL Senior Scientist Kai Zhu applies a perovskite precursor solution to make a perovskite film.
Image Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Published on April 25th, 2014 | by James Ayre

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Perovskite’s Great Potential As Solar Cell Material Revealed By New Research

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April 25th, 2014 by  

Ever heard of a perovskite solar cell? Probably not. But you have now, and very likely will be hearing more and more about them in the coming years, based on the very encouraging findings of a recent analysis by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

While solar cells based on the new material — which is based on a mineral first discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1839 — have been increasing in efficiency “faster than almost anything researchers have seen before” (a four-fold increase in four years), the real advantage of the material, as the new research has revealed, is in its potential to reduce the cost of high-efficiency cells.

NREL Senior Scientist Kai Zhu applies a perovskite precursor solution to make a perovskite film. Image Credit: Dennis Schroeder

NREL Senior Scientist Kai Zhu applies a perovskite precursor solution to make a perovskite film.
Image Credit: Dennis Schroeder


The new, in-depth analysis of the semiconducting, cube-like mineral by researchers at NREL utilized the lab’s unique testing capabilities and broad spectrum of expertise to characterize its potential with regard to solar energy.

The press release from the DOE/NREL provides more:

NREL Research Fellow David Ginley, who is a world-renowned materials scientist and winner of several R&D 100 Awards, said what makes perovskite device structures so remarkable is that when processed in a liquid solution, they have unusual abilities to diffuse photons a long distance through the cell. That makes it far less likely that the electrons will recombine with their hole pairs and be lost to useful electricity. And that indicates a potential for low-cost, high-efficiency devices.

NREL Senior Scientist Daniel Friedman notes that the light-absorbing perovskite cells have “a diffusion length 10 times longer than their absorption length,” not only an unusual phenomenon, but a very useful one, too.

Importantly, the perovskite-inspired material used in the new solar cells is quite easy to fabricate — being easily manufactured via a printing process relying on a liquid precursor. It’s this ease of fabrication that makes the material so appealing — and potentially cheap.

Another interesting quality to note is that the perovskite material can be easily tuned to capture different portions of the light spectrum — a trait that would allow it to be (relatively) easily used in super-high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells, possibly helping to reduce the costs of such high-efficiency — but quite expensive — multi-junction cells.

Summing up what much of the buzz is about, NREL Senior Scientist Joey Luther, concluded: “Perovskite shows promise to be a whole lot easier to make compared to most other solar cells. It doesn’t require high-temperature processing. You can just dip glass into two chemicals and get the material to form on it.”

Certainly does sound promising. We’ll keep you posted on further developments relating to perovskite.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • solarone

    The interesting part of the new perovskite materials appears to be some unexpected physics. These seemingly impure low temperature synthesis materials are acting like very pure silicon (high carrier lifetimes and mobility) leading to high efficiencies. Although exciting, the true utility of the silicon technology is not so much efficiency, but low manufacturing cost and longevity – nothing is known about the perovskite materials to make a judgement as to how they will compare to silicon in this regard. In my opinion, low temperature synthesis is not a plus as that suggests they will be subject to high short term degradation and thus unsuitable for wide scale deployment. Another caution is suggested by dye solar cells (the Gratzel cell). Very quickly efficiency soared to ~12% – very good at the time, but has not risen much since then. However, lest my natural caution gets the best of me, the science will tell, and that story is yet to be written.

    • JamesWimberley

      Longevity looks indeed like an inherent feature of the silicon cell. But low manufacturing cost was achieved with great difficulty over a very long period – 60 years to be precise. It sets a very low bar for new technologies to limbo-dance under. Most of the candidates being reported on will presumably fail. I’m not venturing a prediction which if any solar spermatazoon will hit the reproductive jackpot.

      • solarone

        It is hard to imagine that the silicon lion will not take over this upstart pride, kill the new cubs, and continue basking triumphantly in the sun….

        • Bob_Wallace

          “I’m not venturing a prediction which if any solar spermatazoon will hit the reproductive jackpot.”

          “It is hard to imagine that the silicon lion will not take over this upstart pride, kill the new cubs, and continue basking triumphantly in the sun.”

          Thanks for the creative writing.

  • JamesWimberley

    American scientists are playing catch-up here. The key pioneer is Michael Grätzel of Lausanne, who has inspired a network of perovskite researchers at Oxford, in China, and elsewhere.
    the new material — which is based on a mineral first discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1839
    Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/25/perovskites-great-potential-solar-cell-material-revealed-new-research/#kSBSdrVX1Fqflhdw.99

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