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Homing in on longer-lasting perovskite solar cells

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Homing in on longer-lasting perovskite solar cells

Materials called perovskites are widely heralded as a likely replacement for silicon as the material of choice for solar cells, but their greatest drawback is their tendency to degrade relatively rapidly. Over recent years, the usable lifetime of perovskite-based cells has gradually improved from minutes to months, but it still lags far behind the decades expected from silicon, the material currently used for virtually all commercial solar panels.

Now, an international interdisciplinary team led by MIT has come up with a new approach to narrowing the search for the best candidates for long-lasting perovskite formulations, out of a vast number of potential combinations. Already, their system has zeroed in on one composition that in the lab has improved on existing versions more than tenfold. Even under real-world conditions at full solar cell level, beyond just a small sample in a lab, this type of perovskite has performed three times better than the state-of-the-art formulations.

The findings appear in the journal Matter, in a paper by MIT research scientist Shijing Sun, MIT professors, Moungi Bawendi, John Fisher, and Tonio Buonassisi, who is also a principal investigator at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), and 16 others from MIT, Germany, Singapore, Colorado, and New York.

Perovskites are a broad class of materials characterized by the way atoms are arranged in their layered crystal lattice. These layers, described by convention as A, B, and X, can each consist of a variety of different atoms or compounds. So, searching through the entire universe of such combinations to find the best candidates to meet specific goals – longevity, efficiency, manufacturability, and availability of source materials – is a slow and painstaking process, and largely one without any map for guidance.

“If you consider even just three elements, the most common ones in perovskites that people sub in and out are on the A site of the perovskite crystal structure,” which can each easily be varied by 1-percent increments in their relative composition, Buonassisi says. “The number of steps becomes just preposterous. It becomes very, very large” and thus impractical to search through systematically. Each step involves the complex synthesis process of creating a new material and then testing its degradation, which even under accelerated aging conditions is a time-consuming process.

The key to the team’s success is what they describe as a data fusion approach. This iterative method uses an automated system to guide the production and testing of a variety of formulations, then uses machine learning to go through the results of those tests, combined again with first-principles physical modeling, to guide the next round of experiments. The system keeps repeating that process, refining the results each time.

Buonassisi likes to compare the vast realm of possible compositions to an ocean, and he says most researchers have stayed very close to the shores of known formulations that have achieved high efficiencies, for example, by tinkering just slightly with those atomic configurations. However, “once in a while, somebody makes a mistake or has a stroke of genius and departs from that and lands somewhere else in composition space, and hey, it works better! A happy bit of serendipity, and then everybody moves over there” in their research. “But it’s not usually a structured thought process.”

This new approach, he says, provides a way to explore far offshore areas in search of better properties, in a more systematic and efficient way. In their work so far, by synthesizing and testing less than 2 percent of the possible combinations among three components, the researchers were able to zero in on what seems to be the most durable formulation of a perovskite solar cell material found to date.

“”This story is really about the fusion of all the different sets of tools” used to find the new formulation, says Sun, who coordinated the international team that carried out the work, including the development of a high-throughput automated degradation test system that monitors the breakdown of the material through its changes in color as it darkens. To confirm the results, the team went beyond making a tiny chip in the lab and incorporated the material into a working solar cell.

“”Another point of this work is that we actually demonstrate, all the way from the chemical selection until we actually make a solar cell in the end,” she says. “And it tells us that the machine-learning-suggested chemical is not only stable in its own freestanding form. They can also be translated into real-life solar cells, and they lead to improved reliability.” Some of their lab-scale demonstrations achieved longevity as much as 17 times greater than the baseline formula they started with, but even the full-cell demonstration, which includes the necessary interconnections, outlasted the existing materials by more than three times, she says.

Buonassisi says the method the team developed could also be applied to other areas of materials research involving similarly large ranges of choice in composition. “It really opens the door for a mode of research where you can have these short, quick loops of innovation happening, maybe at a subcomponent or a material level. And then once you zero in on the right composition, you bump it up into a longer loop that involves device fabrication, and you test it out” at that next level.

“”It’s one of the big promises of the field to be able to do this type of work,” he says. “To see it actually happen was one of those [highly memorable] moments. I remember the exact place I was when I received the call from Shijing about these results – when you start to actually see these ideas come to life. It was really stunning.”

“What is particularly exciting about [this] advance is that the authors use physics to guide the intuition of the [optimization] process, rather than limiting the search space with hard constraints,” says University Professor Edward Sargent of the University of Toronto, a specialist in nanotechnology who was not connected with this research. “”This approach will see widespread exploitation as machine learning continues to move toward solving real problems in materials science.””

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Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research

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Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research


Project receives funding for advanced solar-thermal research

by Sophie Jenkins

London, UK (SPX) Apr 12, 2024






The University of Surrey, leading a collaboration with the University of Bristol and Northumbria University, has received a GBP 1.1 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop solar-thermal devices. These devices aim to revolutionize the way we heat homes and generate power, differing from traditional solar cells by converting sunlight into heat for energy production.

The research focuses on creating surfaces that selectively absorb sunlight and emit heat through near-infrared radiation. This project leverages the combined expertise of the institutions in photonics, advanced materials, applied electromagnetics, and nanofabrication to address a global need for efficient solar energy utilization.



Professor Marian Florescu, Principal Investigator from Surrey, highlighted the importance of the project: “The sun provides an immense amount of energy daily, much more than we currently harness. By advancing these solar-absorbing surfaces, we aim to transform solar energy use into a sustainable powerhouse for our increasing energy needs.”



Goals of the project include developing high-temperature solar absorbers, enhancing the efficiency of solar-absorbing structures, and improving the management of heat generated from sunlight. Prototypes will be constructed to demonstrate these technologies.



Professor Marin Cryan, Co-Principal Investigator from the University of Bristol, explained their focus on thermionic solar cell technology, which uses concentrated sunlight to initiate electron emission for high-efficiency solar cells.



Dr. Daniel Ho, Co-Principal Investigator from Northumbria University, added: “Our university leads in thermophotovoltaic research, utilizing advanced thermal analysis techniques. We’re excited to contribute to groundbreaking developments in renewable energy.”


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Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid

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Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid


Improving Solar and Wind Power Integration in the U.S. Grid

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 11, 2024






The Midcontinent Independent System Operator manages a high-voltage electricity network spanning from Manitoba to Louisiana, serving 45 million users. This vast operation requires maintaining a balance between the energy generated and the demand across its regions.

The traditional reliance on coal and natural gas power plants is changing. For example, wind farms in Iowa now generate over 64% of the state’s electricity, and recent initiatives like the Alliant Energy Solar Farm at Iowa State University represent the shift towards renewable energy sources. These sources, however, introduce variability and uncertainty into grid management.



Zhaoyu Wang, a Northrop Grumman associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State, emphasized, The power system seeks certainty which is challenging with unpredictable natural resources like sun and wind.



Wang is leading the MODERNISE project, aimed at modernizing grid operations. The U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked a $3 million grant over three years for this initiative, with an additional $1.1 million coming from project collaborators including Argonne National Laboratory and Siemens Corp.



The project, titled Modernizing Operation and Decision-Making Tools Enabling Resource Management in Stochastic Environment, involves developing computational tools that allow for better integration and management of renewable energy sources into the grid.



Jennifer M. Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy, supported this initiative stating that effective integration of renewable resources is essential for deploying clean energy. The project is part of a larger $34 million investment by the DOE to develop technologies that enhance grid reliability and efficiency.



By aggregating smaller renewable energy resources into larger operational blocks, MODERNISE aims to improve grid stability and predictability. Bai Cui, project co-leader and assistant professor at Iowa State, explained that this approach allows operators to manage grid operations more effectively by understanding and handling the uncertainties of renewable supply sources.



This initiative promises to make grid operations more adaptable and efficient, critical for accommodating the increasing reliance on renewable energy.


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Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells

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Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells


Quantum Material Achieves Up to 190% Efficiency in Solar Cells

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 11, 2024






Researchers from Lehigh University have developed a material that significantly enhances the efficiency of solar panels.

A prototype incorporating this material as the active layer in a solar cell displays an average photovoltaic absorption rate of 80%, a high rate of photoexcited carrier generation, and an external quantum efficiency (EQE) reaching up to 190%. This figure surpasses the theoretical Shockley-Queisser efficiency limit for silicon-based materials, advancing the field of quantum materials for photovoltaics.



This work signifies a major advance in sustainable energy solutions, according to Chinedu Ekuma, professor of physics at Lehigh. He and Lehigh doctoral student Srihari Kastuar recently published their findings in the journal Science Advances. Ekuma highlighted the innovative approaches that could soon redefine solar energy efficiency and accessibility.



The material’s significant efficiency improvement is largely due to its unique intermediate band states, which are energy levels within the material’s electronic structure that are ideally positioned for solar energy conversion.



These states have energy levels in the optimal subband gaps-energy ranges capable of efficiently absorbing sunlight and producing charge carriers-between 0.78 and 1.26 electron volts.



Moreover, the material excels in absorbing high levels in the infrared and visible regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.



In traditional solar cells, the maximum EQE is 100%, which corresponds to the generation and collection of one electron for each photon absorbed. However, newer materials and configurations can generate and collect more than one electron per high-energy photon, achieving an EQE over 100%.



Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG) materials, though not yet widely commercialized, show immense potential for enhancing solar power system efficiency. The Lehigh-developed material utilizes intermediate band states to capture photon energy typically lost in traditional cells, including energy lost through reflection and heat production.



The research team created this novel material using van der Waals gaps, atomically small spaces between layered two-dimensional materials, to confine molecules or ions. Specifically, they inserted zerovalent copper atoms between layers of germanium selenide (GeSe) and tin sulfide (SnS).



Ekuma developed the prototype based on extensive computer modeling that indicated the system’s theoretical potential. Its rapid response and enhanced efficiency strongly indicate the potential of Cu-intercalated GeSe/SnS as a quantum material for advanced photovoltaic applications, offering a path for efficiency improvements in solar energy conversion, he stated.



While the integration of this quantum material into existing solar energy systems requires further research, the techniques used to create these materials are already highly advanced, with scientists mastering precise methods for inserting atoms, ions, and molecules.



Research Report:Chemically Tuned Intermediate Band States in Atomically Thin CuxGeSe/SnS Quantum Material for Photovoltaic Applications


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