Next Green Breakthrough: Printable Solar Cells
Next Green Breakthrough: Printable Solar Cells

Oct 24, 2019

A major milestone in green technology might be just around the corner. As economically produced as printing a newspaper, printable solar cells may potentially turn any surface into a solar generator, bringing the advantages of low-cost renewable energy to any location on Earth, from large cities to remote villages. This newest innovation revolves around the cost-effective mass production of perovskite cells, which harvest light energy via a layer of microscopic crystals. Each one is 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

These perovskite elements can be converted into a liquid form, which in turn can be printed onto plastic, glass, or other lightweight materials like inkjet printing. Experts predict flexible solar cells available on the retail market will extend the battery life of outdoor mobile devices attached directly to the skin of laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Extending to the world’s distant corners, lightweight solar panels will exponentially expand the electrical supply grid, harnessing the most abundant, environmentally-friendly resource known.

Future of Printable Solar Cells

This represents a game-changing alternative to rigid conventional solar panels, which are nearly 90% of current worldwide production and use thicker layers of silicon requiring lengthy manufacturing techniques, including purification via 1,000 degree Celsius temperatures and large quantities of hazardous chemicals. The energy required to produce a single silicon cell from the factory is already equivalent to roughly 10% of that unit’s lifetime electrical output. While printable perovskite cells have shown strong promise on the drawing board, a few technological hurdles still need to be cleared before they’re officially declared ready for use. One issue has been how to extract energy from the paper-thin cell via an electron selective layer (ESL).

The most effective ESLs are made from powdered materials, which still require high-temperature processing, up to 500 degrees Celsius, far beyond the tolerance of the thinner base plastics. Recent studies may have solved this at the University of Toronto, where researchers developed a method of creating the ESL via nanoparticles in a low-temperature liquid solution. The addition of chlorine atoms to bind the layer to the perovskite electrode. Cells created via this new process reflected comparable performance to conventional cells over long-term testing. Lightweight perovskite cells can be installed alongside existing rigid silicon cells, dramatically increasing a rooftop solar array output. [1]

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