Watch These Potentially Low-Cost Solar Cells Grow Before Your Eyes

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We were just saying that the oil price bust will not stop the solar energy boom, and along comes the Los Alamos National Laboratory to prove our point. It looks like the next generation of high-efficiency, low-cost solar cells is going to involve a lot of perovskite, and the lab has just figured out how to make them grow bigger, and better.

Before we get into the details, first let us taxpayers pat ourselves on the back for this latest solar energy achievement, and also let’s thank Mother Russia. Perovskite is a mineral first discovered in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century, so named for Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski.

low cost solar cell perovskite
Perovskite solar cell (screenshot, courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory).

Low-Cost Solar Cells & The Hysteresis Problem

Perovskite also refers to any synthetic material that shares the distinctive crystalline structure of calcium titanium oxide, which means that we don’t have to patch up our relations with Russia in order to get a reliable supply of the stuff.

Researchers are becoming very excited about perovskites (here’s an example from just a couple of weeks ago, and here’s another with a tin bonus) because in theory it could come close to silicon for solar conversion efficiency, but at a much lower cost.

That’s the theory. In practice, perovskites still lag pretty far behind silicon in terms of efficiency.

Part of the problem is a hysteresis “bottleneck,” which sounds awfully like somebody needs to stop screaming and relax with a cocktail, which is partly true. Our friends over at Cornell University have a useful rundown on the topic of hysteresis if you want all the details, but for our purposes let’s just say that it refers to systems that don’t bounce back to their original form after force is exerted, and yes, such systems are known to emit screaming noises.

The Los Alamos team was able to resolve that problem and fabricate large-area perovskite solar cells using a “hot casting” method, as neatly described in a video ambitiously titled “SUPERfficient Solar — Low-Cost Solar-Based Global Energy Solution:”

From Low-Cost Solar Cells To EV Batteries

Not for nothing, but perovskites could also play a role in a high-efficiency, low-cost electric vehicle battery of the future.

Volkswagen, for one, has shown some interest in perovskite EV batteries, which we’re guessing is the case based on the company’s relations with the “mysterious” battery company Quantumscape.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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