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Scientists make ‘miracle material’ breakthrough to revolutionise solar power

The Independent logo The Independent 4/23/2022 Anthony Cuthbertson
The mineral perovskite has been hailed for its potential to transform the solar power industry - Getty Images/iStockphoto © Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mineral perovskite has been hailed for its potential to transform the solar power industry

- Getty Images/iStockphoto

Scientists have discovered a way to make ultra-efficient solar cells on a commercial scale using the “miracle material” perovskite.

A team from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and Imperial College London made the discovery in a breakthrough that could have major implications for renewable energy production and reaching zero carbon objectives.

Perovskite has been hailed for its remarkable properties compared to tradtional silicon solar cells, however until now they have been too unstable to be suitable for commercial use.

The next-generation cells are expected to cost less, have a much higher power conversion efficiency, and be lightweight and flexible – opening up new applications like coating glass windows with thin layers of transparent solar panels.

Zeev Valy Vardeny, a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Utah, described perovskite’s unique properties in 2017 as “unbelievable, a miracle material”. At the time, commercialisation of the technology was thought to be at least a decade away, however this discovery could push that forward considerably.

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The chemists were able to overcome perovskite’s difficult properties by making use of a metal-containing material called ferrocenes, which they added as an interface betewen the light-absorbing layer of the solar cell and the layer that transports electrons.

“The unique properties of ferrocenes can help overcome the problems with perovskite solar cells,” said Professor Nicholas Long from Imperial College’s Department of Chemistry.

Using this breakthrough technique, the scientists became the first team to create a solar cell capable of performing at a similar level to silicon cells while still remaining stable.

Tests of the new solar cells found that they could run under continuous illumination for more than 1,500 hours while retaining 98 per cent of their initial efficiency.

“The most important part of this work is that we successfully fabricated highly efficient perovskite solar cells while providing promising stability,” said Dr Zhu Zonglong, an assistant professor in CityU’s Department of Chemistry.

“The reliable results mean that the commercialisation of perovskites is on its way. We aim to scale up the production of perovskite solar cells using this novel molecule and facile method, contributing to the global ‘zero-carbon’ sustainability goal.”

The researchers have patented the design, which was described in a paper published in the journal Science on Thursday.

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