Futurism

New Electron Research Could Lead to Cheaper, More Versatile Solar Cells

In Brief


Researchers from the University of Virginia have discovered a way to keep electrons in hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites (HOIPs) from degrading rapidly. Their work could eventually lead to cheaper, more versatile solar cells.

Power From Light

Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites (HOIPs) are incredibly efficient when it comes to converting energy from light into usable electricity. They are lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive, and they may be our best option for improving the solar power systems that could end our reliance on fossil fuels.

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The problem with HOIPs, however, lies in their stability. In a solar cell, the presence of light excites electrons, and these excited electrons are what power our homes, devices, or whatever else is linked to the solar cell. Electrons contained by HOIPs are subject to rapid degradation, particularly when exposed to changing temperatures, making them difficult to use inside of a solar cell.

To take full advantage of HOIPs, we need a way to “strengthen” their electrons, and physicist Seung-Hun Lee and chemical engineer Joshua Choi from the University of Virginia think they may have found that way. In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, the pair explain that rotating the molecules in HOIPs allows the electrons to stay excited longer.

Pursuit of Perfection

The pair’s discovery could be the breakthrough needed to allow HOIPs to convert energy more efficiently. “This finding sets us on the path to better manipulating HOIPS for greater efficiency, as well as for longer-lasting efficiency under changing conditions,” Choi told UVA Today.

However, while the discovery is promising, Lee made it clear that more research is necessary. “The trick will be finding ways to maximize the effect of these molecular rotations to extend the electron lifetimes,” he said. If that can be done, HOIPs could be the perfect material to use to power buildings, provide people in remote locations with energy, or potentially even fuel spacecraft.

“Power from the Sun is the most abundant source of renewable energy, and it is essentially everlasting,” said Lee. “Realization of economical solar energy technologies is thus essential for the enduring prosperity of mankind on Earth and beyond.”

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