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Perovskite breakthrough may fast-track new solar PV technology

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Just over a year after Australian cleantech company Dyesol claimed to have achieved efficiency levels of 10 per cent in its perovskite solar cells, US researchers claim to have topped that, with a breakthrough that could also work to fast-track commercialisation of the technology.

As reported on RenewEconomy, perovskite PV applications have been one of the most-hyped areas for next generation solar PV technology in recent years, with researchers achieving startlingly fast conversion efficiency increases.

It has, however, also been plagued with stability and durability issues, with the material sensitive to moisture contact and high efficiency perovskite cells exhibiting high degradation rates.

Researchers at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said last week that their work in fashioning a next-generation perovskite PV cell using so-called “quantum dots” had been successfully tested to have better than 10 per cent efficiency.

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NREL researchers with solutions of all-inorganic perovskite quantum dots, showing intense photoluminescence when illuminated with UV light. Source: NREL

The work, part of the federal Energy Department’s Sunshot initiative, has also led to development of a method to stabilise the crystalline structure of all-inorganic perovskite material at room temperature rather than only high temperatures, according to Recharge News – a key step in commercialisation of the concept.

By using quantum dots – nanocrystals of cesium lead iodide (CsPbI) – the team has removed the need for the cells unstable organic component, “opening the door” to a high-efficiency perovskite cell that can operate at temperatures ranging from far below zero to well over 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Most research into perovskites has centred on a hybrid organic-inorganic structure,” said the NREL team, which was led by Abhishek Swarnkar. “Since research into perovskites for photovoltaics began, their efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity has climbed steadily and now shows greater than 22% power conversion efficiency.

“However, the organic component hasn’t been durable enough for the long-term use of perovskites as a solar cell.

“Contrary to the bulk version of CsPbI, the nanocrystals were found to be stable not only at temperatures exceeding 600F but also at room temperatures and at hundreds of degrees below zero,” said the researchers.

“The bulk version of this material is unstable at room temperature, where photovoltaics normally operate and convert very quickly to an undesired crystal structure.”

The 10.77 per cent efficiency is close to that of record quantum dot solar cells of other materials and surpasses other reported all-inorganic perovskite cells, Recharge said.

In Australia, perovskite development is being led by NSW company Dyesol, who in September 2015 claimed to have produced 1cm squared perovskite cells, at around 10 per cent conversion efficiency, and able to withstand accelerated degradation testing for over 1000 hours.

Dyesol’s progress has since been boosted by an ARENA grant of $449,000, which the Agency said would enable the company to create a roadmap to take its perovskite solar cell technology from the lab to a commercially available product.

A report earlier this year from US-based analysts Lux suggest recent advances in perovskite PV could lead to commercial roll-out of the technology “between 2019-21”.

According to Recharge, approaches to cell design have led to a transformative improvement in the economics of the technology, making it increasingly competitive with market-dominant crystalline silicon (CSi) and thin-film, which boast efficiencies of 17-23 per cent.  

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  • John McRae

    Can anyone explain the efficiencies quoted in this story? Current commercial crystalline silicon is said to be 17-23% whereas the new breakthrough material is only around 10%. What’s the advantage?

    • Ed

      In the lab Perovskites are 22.1%+ (EPFL – Prof. Michael Graetzel) but in terms of more stable compounds they are less than this. The growth in the efficiencies of perovskites over the past few years has been dramatic. The NREL chart shows that http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/images/efficiency_chart.jpg

      Dyesol is a pioneer licensee of the EPFL in Switzerland and they have developed a porous carbon perovskite cell that has been shown to be stable as well as a patent for doping the cell that raises the efficiency another 2-3%.

      It looks like it is ready for commercialisation. It sounds like they are using it to produce a prototype 45 x 65 cm with the help of Nobel prize winning company VDL ETG in Singapore (they were Electronics part of Phillips I think) and then a full scale panel. They’re derisking the technology and using independent testing labs like NREL.

      I don’t think their cells will be made from toxic materials (e.g. lead, although the initial cells did which made them sensitive to moisture) and the Levellised Cost of Energy is very low compared with Silicon PV. Much less energy is required for manufacturing and they are made from readily available materials including TiO2.

      Some good information about their recent activities here:
      http://www.abnnewswire.net/amp/en/84631/Dyesol-Ltd-(ASX-DYE)-Annual-Report-2016-to-Shareholders.html

    • Mike Shurtleff

      No advantage. 10% conversion efficiency is not commercially viable. Not worth the cost to install.
      Neat work, very stable over wide temperature range, but 1,000 hours is not very long without degradation. 1,000 hours is only 125 days assuming 8 hours of sun per day, bupkis.
      Ms Vorrath writes a lot of very good articles. This might not be one of them. Fluff.

      • Alastair Leith

        Solar was at the time of NASA Moon Shot less than 10% efficient. And the EROI was less than 1. patience grasshopper.

    • Alex Hromas

      Efficiencies are not that critical in solar systems as the fuel is free. Cost per KW is and these materials can be made at a fraction of the cost of silicon cells.
      You may even be able to paint it onto your roof

      • John McRae

        thanks. this wasn’t even mentioned in the article.

      • Alastair Leith

        yeah only limit related to efficiency is the area available to expose to direct sun. but generally panels have fabrication costs at present. If this can be applied to building external cladding products (or internal) one day and the energy harnessed for a trivial cost we finally will have a potential negative emissions technology for CO2 draw down.

        All the IPCC 2ºC pathways involve so called “negative emissions” technology which people usually take to mean bio-mass2energy. But energy2CO2-drawdown is the other side of that coin, and may end up much cheaper and more immediate.