An old material could be used to make dirt cheap solar panels – but don’t get too excited, it’s likely still some time before they’ll be available commercially for the home solar market.
Deposits of perovskite, a calcium titanium oxide mineral, were first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia by Gustav Rose in 1839.
The mineral, named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, displays a multitude of properties including superconductivity, magnetoresistance, ionic conductivity, and various dielectric attributes.
While the existence of perovskite has been known for nearly 175 years, it’s only been relatively recently that its attributes have been seized upon for use in the construction of solar cells.
According to the MIT Technology Review, the mineral could be used to make solar panels that could be produced for between 10 and 20 cents per watt. This is largely due to the small amount of perovskite that is needed to construct a solar cell.
“While conventional silicon solar panels use materials that are about 180 micrometers thick, the new solar cells use less than one micrometer of material to capture the same amount of sunlight,” states an article on the topic.
A great deal of progress has been made in using the material. Original solar cells made from perovskite achieved efficiencies of just 3.5%, but last year researchers at Oxford University reported developing a prototype perovskite based solar cell “that has a power conversion efficiency of 10.9% in a single-junction device under simulated full sunlight.”
Australian solar pioneer Professor Martin Green, widely regarded as the ‘father of photovoltaics’, sees great potential for perovskite – and not just as a replacement for silicon, but it could perhaps enhance the properties of silicon based solar cells.
While 10 cents a watt may sound like a pipe dream; it was less than a decade ago when the prospect of solar panels that could be produced for less than $1 a watt seemed unlikely too.