The first photovoltaic cells made of perovskite are arriving on the market. Inexpensive, flexible, efficient and suited to many different formats, they can be easily installed on a laptop, a car, a façade and even indoors. Industrial production is set to start.
‘Perovskite’, nobody had heard of this strange name just five years ago. Nonetheless, its surprising physical properties are pioneering a revolution for everyone to have access to solar energy. Light solar panels, variable transparency and tint, inexpensive… In the sun or even in the shade, the walls and windows of a building will produce the electricity it needs. This ecological dream is taking shape in an industrial project launched by a young Polish researcher and business woman.
Perovskite was mentioned as early as 1830 by German engineer, Gustav Rose, who was carrying out research in the Urals and gave it this name in memory of Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski. Its specific atomic structure is widespread in nature and easy to produce in a laboratory. But it was not before Japanese researcher Tsutomu Miyasaka’s work in 2009, followed by others, particularly at Oxford University and EPFL, that the possibility of making photovoltaic cells from perovskite was discovered.
Towards energy self-sufficient buildings
In 2013, Olga Malinkievicz, of the Molecular Science Institute in Valence (Spain), created the first photovoltaic cell by placing a layer of perovskite by evaporation, then by ink jet printing. With two Polish businessmen and a Japanese billionaire, she created Saule Technologies in Wroclaw (Poland) and with it, the first perovskite ink production site. It should produce 40,000 m² of panels by the end of the year, and double that in 2020.
A restricted volume, as a test. However, in the long term, it will be possible to install compact production lines anywhere, depending on requirements, to make ‘designed-to-measure’ panels. This will bring us closer to the objective of energy self-sufficient buildings. Indeed, according to current estimations, a standard panel of roughly 1.3 m² with an expected cost of 50 euros and a yield comparable to classic panels, could supply a work station with energy throughout the day.
There is one hurdle, however: the perovskite panels that are currently available contain lead (approximately 1 gram per square metre). It would therefore be necessary to either find a substitution for this metal, which is considered harmful, or provide for end-of-life recycling. This is also the case for the cadmium contained in conventional panels.