Next-Gen Solar Material Could Outshine Other Solar Cells

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An exciting new solar material called organic-inorganic halide perovskites could one day help the U.S. achieve its solar ambitions and decarbonize the power grid.

Scientists at Berkeley Lab developed a technique that synthesizes a perovskite solar material and tests its performance at the same time.

Typically fabricated from organic molecules such as methylammonium and inorganic metal halides such as lead iodide, hybrid perovskite solar materials have a high tolerance for defects in their molecular structure and absorb visible light more efficiently than silicon, the solar industry’s standard.

These qualities make perovskites promising active layers not only in photovoltaics (technologies that convert light into electricity), but also in other types of electronic devices that respond to or control light including light-emitting diodes (LEDs), detectors, and lasers.

“Although perovskites offer great potential for greatly expanding solar power, they have yet to be commercialized because their reliable synthesis and long-term stability has long challenged scientists,” said Carolin Sutter-Fella, a scientist at the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscience user facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

A recent Nature Communications study co-led by Sutter-Fella reports that solar materials manufacturing could be aided by a sophisticated new instrument that uses two types of light – invisible X-ray light and visible laser light – to probe a perovskite material’s crystal structure and optical properties as it is synthesized.

The new instrument’s highly intense X-ray light allows researchers to probe the perovskite material’s crystal structure and unveil details about fast chemical processes. For example, it can be used to characterize what happens in the second before and after a drop of a solidifying agent transforms a liquid precursor solution into a solid thin film.

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