An unpretentious lump of rock is currently making the news all over. Perovskite, a family of naturally-occurring crystalline minerals, is taking the scientific world by a storm because of its impressive photovoltaic properties. Perovskite-based solar cell is not only easy to manufacture at low expenses, but with a power conversion efficiency of 19.3%, it is being deemed as a miracle agent when it comes to harnessing solar energy.
First discovered in the Ural mountain region, back in 1839, the material derives its name from Russian mineralogist L.A. Perovski and bears a basic chemical formula of ABX3 . Solar cells are usually built using processed ‘organo-metal halide’ perovskite, that are first crystallized and then attached to a top electrode.
Production involves simple and cost-efficient printing of the solar cells, which makes perovskite a much cheaper alternative to the traditional photovoltaic cells that are currently crowding the market. Altering the component elements of the ABX3 structure can lead to changes in chemical properties, an added advantage that opens up doors to a number of fascinating possibilities. For instance, the perovskite crystal can be made partially transparent enough to be used as solar powered window panes.
At a meeting of the Materials Research Society in April this year, a University of California scientist Yang Yang showcased how a 19.3% efficient perovskite cell can be created, a number that has increased vastly from the 3.8% recorded in 2009. Scientists believe that with further improvements in technology, the power conversion efficiency of perovskite will soon surpass the 20.8% of CIGS and 25% of the commercially available crystalline silicon solar cells.
In an attempt to do away with the toxic effects of lead, a metal that exists in trace amounts in the said minerals, a team of researchers at the Northwestern University have recently succeeded in developing tin-based( lead-free) perovskite solar cell versions.
No wonder, perovskite is being treated as a kind of super substance in the field of photovoltaics, with the journal Science even naming pervoskite solar cells as runner-up for the Breakthrough of the year 2013 award.