When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the last two years, well, have been rough. The pandemic, labor shortages, natural disasters, and geopolitical tension have had rippling effects throughout the world. Everyone from baristas running out of favorite coffee flavors to Apple cutting iPhone production, is hurting. Industry experts and market analysts are warning things are going to get worse before they get better.
So, where’s the positive? It seems like in the face of a world crisis, survival is the one thing on everyone’s mind. Sometimes, that’s the key behind some of the greatest discoveries. Andy Grove of Intel knows this firsthand from his own persistence in the face of uncertainty.
Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Identify and Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Business, is a book written by Grove about adaptation in the face of massive change. While the current shortage has been more of a series of massive changes than just one, one aspect remains the same – chips are hard to come by. With numerous companies waiting desperately for their orders to come, many have started to look for alternative solutions.
One of these solutions? Solar energy in the form of perovskite.
A Crash Course on Perovskite
What is perovskite? It is a naturally occurring mineral of calcium titanate. Named after famous Russian mineralogist, L.A. Perovski, they have been studied for “their electrical properties of ferroelectricity or superconductivity.” What put perovskite on the alternative solution map; however, are halide perovskites that “exhibit a semiconductor-to-metal transition with increasing dimensionality.” Perovskite solar technology was one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in 2013 by editors from Science and Nature.
The best part is that perovskite solar cells harness more energy from solar power than silicon. In fact, they can “generate more power from the sun than almost anything else.” Perovskite solar cells have increased efficiency faster in the lab than any other PV, going from 3% in 2009 to a whopping over 25% in 2020. And they do it at a cheaper cost.
While silicon has remained the dominant semiconductor in photovoltaic technology, tech that converts sunlight into electricity, or solar cells, the cons are starting to outweigh the pros.
“Crystalline silicon is difficult to produce, which slows down the solar panel manufacturing process,” said Teresa Carey, a writer from the groundbreaking technology newsite, Freethink. Coupled with silicon’s “300% price surge” with the U.S. banning imports from China, silicon is now, ironically enough, a rarity. While the use of silicon for semiconductor materials will continue well into the future, new alternatives are catching up.
Metal-halide perovskite semiconductors have proven to be “superior” to silicon due to their high tunability and easy processability. The reason for the dependence on silicon was for years “solution-processed semiconductors were viewed as unable to deliver the same functionality as specially grown crystalline semiconductors.” This refers to the process of coating a layer of ink over a semiconductor, which often results in higher defects within silicon semiconductors.
That is not true for organic-inorganic perovskite semiconductors. Research has found that solution-processed perovskite semiconductors are “highly-defect tolerant.” Those defects that do form during the process have shown to have little effect on functionality. The only drawbacks to perovskite? Silicon, so far, still has a longer lifespan of twenty years.
Likewise, lead coating has proven to be the best coating for metal-halide perovskite. However, considering lead’s toxicity, researchers are working to find an equivalent that can match lead’s efficiency. After all, what’s the point of a more environmentally-friendly alternative that is still toxic? While an equivalent metal hasn’t been found yet, considering how fast perovskite has been performing in lab tests, it might not be far off.
The Road to Mass Production
Climate change’s impacts might have been buried under pandemic headlines, the effects are becoming more and more apparent. Solar energy will have a major role in the future of energy supply. Perovskite, like silicon, is an abundant material. However, few companies have looked into the creation of 100% perovskite technology, such as solar panels. However, several companies have taken steps in that direction with perovskite and silicon mixtures.
Several start-ups, Oxford PV, Saule Technologies, and a few other photovoltaic companies have already made strides in the commercialization of perovskite solar cells. Saule Technologies has outfitted a hotel in Japan, Henn na Hotel in Nagasaki, with a wall of perovskite solar panels. In 2019, this is one of the first real-world applications of perovskite solar panels.
Oxford PV, likewise, is doing so in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology are making strides by now creating a model that can measure the photoluminescence quantum efficiency of perovskite solar cells.
Photoluminescence quantum efficiency refers to the measurement of how much light can be converted into electricity when absorbed.
With nearly a decade between perovskite’s breakthrough and the building efforts towards large-scale implementation, things are moving fast. With the struggle to obtain everything from silicon to semiconductors due to the pandemic’s effect on vulnerable supply chains, it’s no wonder innovation is taking off.
Look Forward Not Back
If there’s anything the pandemic and resulting crisis taught everyone it’s that nothing is ever assured. A material that might be abundant one day can be scarce the next. The fragility of putting all of your eggs in one basket is a sentiment that always rings true.
Things change, but innovation and finding new solutions to problems do not.
That’s what Area51 Electronics strives for, innovation in the face of crisis. Diversity is a big part of Area51 Electronics as a company, both as an independent and authorized distributor and a minority business enterprise. While a crisis can jumpstart innovation, it happens, mainly, by a variety of viewpoints and access to a large network of different people.
Area51 Electronics offers just that. Components that may be hard for certain distributors to find, are not when you have access to different markets. Creativity rises amongst a dedicated team which leads to new solutions to problems.
Perovskite is a great example of manufacturers from different markets, Warsaw, London, and Nagasaki contributing to the development of a new source of energy.
Area51 Electronics offers the same.