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Perovskite, A Turning Point For Solar Power

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Scientific Common Sense

Perovskite, A Turning Point For Solar Power

Perovskite is the name given to a new mineral discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1839, after the Russian mineralogist Lev Perovsky. It is also used to refer to all substances with two types of cations and one type of anion forming a regular crystal structure in the ratio of 1:1:3. As perovskites absorb light well, they are used in solar cells, light emitting diodes (LED) and X-rays. Of these uses for perovskite, the solar cell is the most promising. It has been widely researched since several years ago as a new material that could replace the commonly used silicon for solar cells. Significant strides are being made in related research, with Korea taking the lead.

New Face of Next Generation Solar Cell Materials

Since the commercialization of the 1st generation silicon solar cells, scientists have been working to develop ever more advanced solar cell technologies. Conventional solar cell technologies involve complex manufacturing processes and high cost, making large scale installation a challenge. Since then, 2nd generation dye-sensitized solar cells have been developed, and scientists are now working on 3rd generation technologies. The main 3rd generation solar cell technologies are quantum dot solar cells, organic solar cells and perovskite solar cells. Initially, perovskite did not generate as much interest as the other two, but with more research being conducted, its advantages for photovoltaic applications are being discovered.

It was professor Miyasaka’s team who in 2009 first found promise in perovskite as a solar cell. As the first perovskite solar cell used liquid perovskite crystals and had a photovoltaic efficiency of just 3%, the material did not generate much interest. However, things changed when professor Park Nam-gyu’s team at Sungkyunkwan University achieved a photovoltaic efficiency of 9.7% with the use of solid-state perovskite in 2012.

This paved the way to renewed interest in perovskite solar cell research. In 2013, professor Michael Gratzel’s team at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne raised the photovoltaic efficiency to 15%. In January 2019, the Chinese Academy of Sciences achieved the highest photovoltaic efficiency in the world at the time of 23.7%. However, currently the lead is held by Korea, with new technologies that not only enable the world’s highest photovoltaic efficiency, but also greatly enhance the stability of the solar cell.

Achieving Energy Efficiency and Stability with Korean Technology

In August this year, a joint research team between the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) and MIT successfully raised the photovoltaic efficiency of perovskite solar cells to 25.2%. This was just four months after claiming the world’s highest photovoltaic efficiency in April with 24.2%. The photovoltaic efficiency of the silicon solar cell is 26%. This means that it won’t be long before the photovoltaic efficiency of perovskite solar cells overtakes that of silicon.

An important breakthrough was also made at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. This was through a joint study conducted by Dr. Kim Tae-uk’s team at the Functional Composite Materials Research Center and professor Lee San-hyeon’s team at Chonnam National University, which discovered a new way to synthesize perovskite without the use of toxic lead. The use of lead in the synthesis of perovskite was its fatal flaw, and had been unavoidable in order to maximize the performance of the nano structure. However, this problem had to be resolved to pave the way for the commercial use of perovskite. The KIST-CNU team used the rare earth element ytterbium instead of lead to achieve high quality, high uniformity and low toxicity in the perovskite material.

There are still many challenges to solve before perovskite can be brought to commercial use. The goals of efficiency and safety are greater than that of cost, and require more great purpose and passion for research. However, the future looks bright. With continued investment and research, we could open the door to a better future. As we think about the past, present and future of perovskite, let’s hope that Korean perovskite solar cell technology will hold an important place in the future of renewable energy, to change our lives and the world for the better.