For the past six years, a major US oil and gas holding company has been collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Lab on new breakthrough perovskite solar cell research. What a twist! The effort has been conducted through a relatively new division of the firm and it hasn’t attracted much attention, except that earlier this month they finally let something slip on the newswires and now the cat’s out of the bag.
Oil Company Hearts Perovskite Solar Cells
The holding company in question is Hunt Consolidated, Inc., parent of the 80-year-old privately held global oil and gas leader Hunt Oil and of a somewhat lesser known entity called Hunt Perovskite Technologies.
So, why has a major fossil fuel company been collaborating with NREL on cutting edge research leading to the next generation of low cost solar cells?
After all, other global oil and gas stakeholders are venturing into renewable energy. However, they are mainly focused on market-proven technologies that don’t disrupt their fossil fuel business, at least not for the time being.
Hunt’s new perovskite research is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. It could have a profound, widespread impact on the energy marketplace and accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
That’s because perovskite technology can push down solar costs far below today’s costs. Perovskite solar cells are also lighter and more flexible, which means they have a greater range of application.
For a bonus, perovskite solar cells can be “printed” with a relatively conventional high-volume manufacturing process.
Perovskite solar cells are only just beginning to edge out of the laboratory, now that researchers have finally worked out the kinks. Once they hit the shelves, they will kick the global solar market into a whole new level of activity.
As for why Hunt, last week Forbes took a crack at the mystery and noted that the current head of the family business, Hunter L. Hunt, spent the past 10 years creating and then spinning off a new high voltage power line company.
That venture, along with the company’s investment arm Hunt Energy Enterprises, indicates that Hunt Oil is looking more holistically at new high tech opportunities in the energy market aside from just digging up stuff out of the ground.
More & Better Perovskite Solar Cells
The main challenge with perovskite as a solar cell material is durability, and researchers have been trying various formulas to improve durability without sacrificing too much solar conversion efficiency.
Hunt Perovskite Technologies launched in 2013 with a focus on the perovskite durability problem, as a corporate partner of NREL.
The work came to fruition late last year, when Hunt was able to demonstrate an ink-based manufacturing process for its new solar cell, to the satisfaction of the International Electrotechnical Commission. According to Hunt, the new solar cell exceeds IEC standards for temperature, humidity, white light and ultraviolet stress while achieving a fairly impressive solar conversion efficiency of 18%.
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Legacy companies like Hunt are not going to shed their fossil fuel interests willy-nilly, but in a press statement Hunter Hunt indicated that his family business is prepping for change.
“We strategically chose to develop perovskite solar several years ago; we envisioned its strategic importance as an innovative new energy technology in addressing the world’s energy needs for the future, as well playing a part in combating climate change,” he said. “As part of the global energy transition that is occurring, our solar team is hoping to make a meaningful contribution.”
Hunt Perovskite Technologies also garnered an endorsement from NREL for its role in shepherding disruptive solar technology out of the lab.
The lab’s senior scientist on its Perovskite and Hybrid Solar Cells Team, Joe Berry, noted that the company has been instrumental in its efforts to launch new clean technology over the “Valley of Death” that often separates high risk, high reward research from commercial application.
“We look forward to continued collaboration with our industry partners as we seek to develop and, ultimately, deploy these promising technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace,” he said.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to NREL for more details about the lab’s collaborative work with Hunt, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Photo (cropped): HPT has collaborated with NREL on perovskite ink for solar cells, like this one developed by NREL researcher David Moore (Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL).