Clean energy investing is finally beginning to rise faster than fossil energy investing, a global trend that the International Energy Agency attributes to affordability and security advantages. The US is among the leaders for now, but that could change as anti-science politicians carry out their mission to shut down the nation’s pipeline of energy innovators. With that in mind, let’s turn to Canada, where a new perovskite solar cell solution is bubbling up.
More Dollars For Clean Energy Tech, With Some Caveats
The latest International Energy Agency report is a mixed bag of good and bad news. First, the good news: Between 2021 and the end of this year, IEA expects clean energy investing to rise by 24%, compared to only 15% for fossil energy.
On the down side, IEA emphasizes that fossil energy investing is still on the upswing, if only at 15%. IEA also cautions that clean energy dollars are spread unevenly around the globe. China, the US, and other nations in the “advanced economy” designation account for a full 90% of the clean energy increase (for the record, China’s longtime status as a developing nation is in a state of flux).
The 24% forecast also covers clean energy technology, not just clean energy. That casts a very wide net, including electric vehicles and electric heat pumps regardless of whether or not the electricity comes from fossil energy power stations.
In addition, IEA includes grid projects, energy storage, and energy efficiency investments in the 24% forecast along with fuels classified as “low-emission.” All of these can involve an element of fossil sourcing. Nuclear energy also made the cut, which is arguably does not meet the affordability and security benefits ascribed to clean energy.
The World Before Perovskite Solar Cells
Overall, IEA emphasizes that fossil fuel investing is still soul-crushingly out of sync with climate goals, especially for coal.
“…the expected rebound in fossil fuel investment means it is set to rise in 2023 to more than double the levels needed in 2030 in the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario,” IEA warns. “Global coal demand reached an all-time high in 2022, and coal investment this year is on course to reach nearly six times the levels envisaged in 2030 in the Net Zero Scenario.”
Yikes! On the bright side, IEA draws attention to the impact of solar energy investing on power generation. “Led by solar, low-emissions electricity technologies are expected to account for almost 90% of investment in power generation,” the agency states.
“One shining example is investment in solar, which is set to overtake the amount of investment going into oil production for the first time,” IEA Executive Director Faith Birol adds.
That brings us to the topic of perovskite solar cells. They have the potential to flip the script on fossil fuels by pushing the cost of solar power down farther, and faster, than conventional silicon solar cell technology.
The World After Perovskite Solar Cells
When the global solar industry first began to gather steam in the 2010s, solar technology was still relatively expensive. Electricity consumers had to pay a premium for solar power if they wanted clean kilowatts.
Just one decade later, solar is competing with fossil fuels on cost in many markets. Improvements in silicon solar cell technology have made part of the difference. Trimming “soft” costs has also helped push the downward trend.
Silicon technology is just the first wave. New solar cell technologies that can accelerate the downward slide are beginning to jump from the lab to the marketplace, and perovskite solar cells are in the running.
Perovskite is a mineral that has attracted interest in the solar field due to its superior optical properties and its supersized potential for pushing down costs. Also, synthetic perovskite variations can be grown in the lab. In addition to being relatively inexpensive, the lab-grown factor can help to skirt silicon supply chain issues.
Perovskite solar cells lend themselves to low cost, fast throughput, high volume manufacturing processes. They are also thin, flexible and light weight, which mean they can be used in far more applications than possible with silicon technology.
A Sticky Solution for Perovskite Solar Cell Problems
There being no such thing as a free lunch, the earliest iterations of perovskite solar cells were notoriously fragile. However, science loves a challenge. The lure of cheap solar power has attracted R&D dollars to the perovskite field, and all that hard work is beginning to pay off. New, durable perovskite formulations are already heading into commercial production, including perovskite-silicon combos.(see more coverage here).
Foundational perovskite solar cell research is also continuing apace. One new development to cross the CleanTechnica radar comes from the Canadian startup XlynX Materials, which has devised a new adhesive that can be used as a durability treatment for perovskite solar cells.
Earlier this month, the journal Joule published a study titled, “Covalent bonding strategy to enable non-volatile organic cation perovskite for highly stable and efficient solar cells,” in which researchers demonstrated that XlynX’s “BondLynx” adhesive can make a significant improvement in durability.
“When exposed to sunlight, untreated PSCs will lose 35% of their efficiency after just 200 hours of continuous operations. In comparison, BondLynx-treated PSCs show remarkable stability, retaining nearly 99% of their initial efficiency, even after 1,000 hours of continuous illumination,” XlynX explained.
The treated perovskite solar cells also outperformed their untreated cousins on heat survival. After exposing the two solar cells to constant heat at 60°C for 600 hours, the researchers found that the untreated version lost 27% efficiency, while the treated version maintained almost 98% efficiency.
How It Works
As described by XlynX, BondLynx sticks the organic components of perovskite solar cells in place, preventing deterioration from setting in.
The key to the stickiness is the formation of chemical covalent bonds, by virtue of a class of carbon-nitrogen organic molecules called diazirines. Our friends over at Wikipedia have noticed that diazirines are catching on as “small, photo-reactive, crosslinking reagents,” with the crosslinking going on between chains of polymers.
Though new to the CleanTechnica conversation, diazirines have long been used in bonding applications in the field of chemical biology. XlynX’s research team transferred that knowledge base to the materials science field, and the result could be a new wave of inexpensive solar cells that washes out the competition from fossil energy.
Speaking of science, the editors of Scientific American have something to say about the anti-science movement among public officials in the US. In an editorial published on May 25, they name-checked Republican presidential contender and current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, bigly.
“Ron DeSantis…is running for president of the United States on a record of anti-diversity, pro-censorship, white nationalist measures,” they wrote. “He has targeted education, LGBTQ rights and access to health care, and should he prevail, his anti-science candidacy stands to harm millions of Americans.”
Ouch! Anti-science is nothing new for Republican politicians. They have leveraged their way into office for decades by fostering lies about climate change and abortion among other issues. DeSantis is simply more diligent, effective, and all-embracing in the pursuit of enforced ignorance than most.
If you have any thoughts about that, leave us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo credit: BondLynx molecular glue for perovskite solar cells courtesy of XlynX.
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