Study reveals the secret to treating the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of alternatives to silicon solar panels for the photovoltaics industry
Diamond’s Nanoprobe beamline I14 and the electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC) were used by a multidisciplinary team of researchers to gain new insight into the perovskite materials that hold so much potential in the field of optoelectronics. Focusing on structural changes that can lead to degradation, the Diamond instruments were part of a suite that enabled the group to observe the nanoscale properties of thin films of perovskite materials and how they change over time under solar illumination. The research, recently published in Nature, could significantly accelerate the development of long-lasting, commercially available perovskite photovoltaics.
Perovskite materials offer a cheaper alternative to silicon for producing solar cells and also show great potential for other optoelectronic applications, such as energy efficient LEDs and X-ray detectors.
The metal halide salts are abundant and much cheaper to process than crystalline silicon. They can be prepared in a liquid ink that is simply printed to produce a thin film of the material.
While the overall energy output of perovskite solar cells can often meet or – in the case of multi-layered, so-called ‘tandem’ devices – exceed that achievable with traditional silicon photovoltaics, the limited longevity of the devices is a key barrier to their commercial viability.
A typical silicon solar panel, like those you might see on the roof of a house, typically lasts about 20-25 years without significant performance losses.
Because perovskite devices are much cheaper to produce, they may not need to have as long a lifetime as their silicon counterparts at least to enter some markets – but to fulfil their ultimate potential in realising widespread decarbonisation, cells will need to operate for at least a decade or more. Researchers and manufacturers have yet to develop a device with similar stability to silicon cells.
Now, researchers at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (CEB) and Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, together with the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan, have discovered that the defects that limit perovskite efficiency are also responsible for structural changes in the material that lead to degradation.
Read more on the Diamond website
Image: A typical silicon solar panel, like those you might see on the roof of a house, typically lasts about 20-25 years without significant performance losses