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Anita Ho-Baillie
Credit: University of Sydney

Clean Power

Australian Researchers Announce Perovskite Solar Cells That Stand Up To Heat & Humidity

Researchers in Australia have encapsulated perovskite solar cells in a glass and rubber cocoon to protect them from heat and moisture.

Perovskite news is coming thick and fast these days. Why? Because perovskite solar cells are inexpensive to produce, which could lead to a dramatic decrease in the cost of solar power. They are also very light in weight compared to a conventional solar panel and are so flexible they can be rolled up and transported wherever they are needed. That flexibility also means they can be applied to the exterior of buildings that are not perfectly flat, opening up new possibilities for building-integrated photovoltaic applications.

The downside of perovskites is that they are not particularly durable. Although they have reached solar conversion rates of up to 25% in the lab, they can’t stand up very long to conditions outside the lab, which has limited their use in commercial applications.

Anita Ho-Baillie

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie. Credit: University of Sydney

Regular readers of CleanTechnica may remember a recent story about researchers at Iowa State University who have made perovskite cells that can stand up to heat and humidity, a breakthrough that could make them more suitable for commercial applications. Now comes news of a similar breakthrough from researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales. A team of 14 scientists led by Professor Anita Ho-Baillie says encapsulating perovskite cells in a cocoon of glass and polyisobutylene, a synthetic rubber used to make double glazed windows, allows them to survive high heat and humidity much longer than ever before possible.

The team devised the glass and synthetic rubber chamber that surrounds the cells, then put them through three sets of international standard tests which include repeatedly cycling the cells through temperatures of -40C to 85C, as well as exposing them to high humidity levels.

“It’s a world first to pass these three tests in a low-cost way,” Ho-Baillie tells The Guardian. “Not only did the cells pass the thermal cycling tests, they exceeded the demanding requirements of damp-heat and humidity-freeze tests as well. Perovskite opens the market in ways that we hadn’t thought of. It’s lightweight, it’s flexible, and you could fold it up and roll it out. For us, the sky is the limit.”

Commercialization Is A Long, Hard Road

The research, which was published May 21 in the journal Science, was supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Dr Klaus Weber, an associate professor at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the research, is an expert in emerging solar cell technology. He tells The Guardian the research is “an important step along the way to commercialization. This is an important achievement which demonstrates the potential of this new technology to further lower the already low costs of photovoltaics.”

“The study shows that one of the key concerns with the technology, namely its limited stability, can be addressed with good engineering,” he adds. “I would caution, however, that the commercialization of a new technology is a long and complicated process, and that it requires many years before such a new technology becomes widely available. So, don’t hold off installing solar panel in the belief that something better will be available tomorrow.”

The technology offers multiple “and potentially very cheap” ways of making solar cells and could allow more efficient cells to be produced. “Typical layers have a thickness about one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair. This means that material costs can be very low as well, which is important when you want to make many square kilometres of product. Given their promise, it is not surprising that many researchers are attracted to the challenge of improving the understanding of this technology and making better solar cells.”

Advances in solar cells are about as frequent as advances in storage battery technology, which is to say they are happening more and more often. Not all of them will result in breathtaking new developments but, taken together, they all are part of a path forward for renewable energy that may allow humanity one day to end its deadly dance with fossil fuels.

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