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Graphene and Perovskite Lead to Inexpensive and Highly Efficient Solar Cells

New blend of materials promises highly scalable production of highy efficient solar cells

2 min read
Graphene and Perovskite Lead to Inexpensive and Highly Efficient Solar Cells
Photo: The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Perovskite is the new buzzword in photovoltaics. And graphene is the buzzword for just about every other high-tech application, including photovoltaics.

Now researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have combined these two materials to make a semi-transparent solar cell capable of power conversion efficiencies around 12 percent, a significant improvement over the roughly 7-percent efficiency of traditional semi-transparent solar cells.

The semi-transparent design of these solar cells means that they can absorb light from both sides and could allow them to be used as windows that serve the dual function of letting light into a building and generating electricity.

In the design of the Hong Kong researchers’ solar cell, the perovskite serves as active layer for harvesting the light, and the graphene acts as the transparent electrode material. Graphene has long been pursued as a potential replacement for indium tin oxide (ITO) as a transparent electrode material for displays.

Here again, graphene’s transparency, high conductivity, and potentially low cost seemed attractive to the researchers. The researchers improved on the conductivity of the graphene by coating it with a thin layer of a polymer that also served as an adhesion layer to the perovskite active layer during the lamination process.

The researchers were able to improve the energy conversion capability of the solar cells by employing a multi-layer chemical vapor deposition process in which the graphene formed the top transparent electrodes. This approach maintained the transparency of the electrodes while increasing their sheet resistance.

A big concern for the researchers was lowering costs. They claim that their solar cells cost less than US$.06/watt, which they reckon is more than a 50 percent reduction in the costs of silicon solar cells. They believe that the whole process is ripe for scaling up because the mechanical flexibility of the graphene enables the possibility of roll-to-roll processing.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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