U of U researchers say crystalline material has incredible solar power potential

Posted at 10:07 PM, Mar 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-22 00:07:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The best hope for cheap and efficient solar power could be one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to researchers at the University of Utah.

Researchers have been unlocking the secrets of the crystalline material known as perovskite. Valy Vardeny, a U of U professor of physics and astronomy, said that material is the wave of the future.

“It’s relatively inexpensive, so you can put it on windows, so you can actually paint windows with perovskites,” Vardeny said. “My opinion, this will be the future.”

Perovskite is a hybrid of organic and inorganic crystals. They are great light absorbers and are cheaper to make than silicon wafers, which is what's used in standard solar cells.

“They are made out of solutions, so they are cheap,” Vardeny said. “Of course, those materials right now have lead in it, and lead is poison... but sooner or later, we will have that replaced. We are working on it to replace lead by other things.”

In just five years of development, the perovskite solar cells have attained power conversion efficiency that took decades to achieve with the top-performing conventional materials used to generate electricity from sunlight.

Dali Sun is part of the project, and he said their progress is exiting.

“We can’t sleep," he said. "We can’t sleep because this first material we got was so good."

The University of Utah is in collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas. Together, they have uncovered some of the secrets behind the material’s performance.

“Once we know how they work, then we can change lead into something else,” Vardeny said.

They are working to uncover the reason the efficiency is so high by testing its magnetic field.

“By analyzing the response, you will see how this photo vortex works, and why it's so good in this work,” Sun said.

Because of the high-efficiency, the crystal has multiple other uses besides just solar.

“This miracle crystal, they give us also photoemission--that means emission of light,” Vardeny said. “They’ve worked on it, and they’ve found that if you change a little bit of the configuration, you can have a light within a light--that means replacing bulbs or whatnot.”

But it could be up to 20 years before this “miracle crystal” hits the market.

According to the University, these findings provide a more detailed understanding of the physics that will help researchers to fully optimize hybrid perovskite solar cells.