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‘Miracle Material’ Solar Panels

Scientists have figured out a way to mass produce solar panels made out of a so-called miracle material that can massively boost their efficiency.

Perovskite crystal

Perovskite has been hailed for its potential to revolutionise renewable energy, however converting its record-breaking success in the lab into commercial solar panels has proved difficult due to durability and reliability issues. However, solar cells that use a combination of perovskite and silicon have demonstrated vastly more potential to generate electricity from the Sun’s energy compared to the traditional silicon cells we see all around us at the moment.

Back in 2020, researchers in Oxford discovered that by coating traditional silicon-based solar panels with a thin layer of a crystal material called perovskite, conversion efficiency could be improved by one third - because the crystal is able to absorb different parts of the solar spectrum than traditional silicon. The breakthrough signalled the first major step-change in solar power generation since the technology emerged in the 1950s.

Since then, several companies have sought to exploit the benefits of perovskite and, in November last year, a new world record of 33.9 percent efficiency for a silicon-perovskite tandem solar cell was achieved. That's roughly 30 percent more efficient than the best performing silicon cells.

The latest good news is that a major study into possible production methods for the technology has now concluded that a vacuum-based approach could allow the next-generation solar panels to be manufactured on a commercial scale.

A team led by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US found that vacuum processes - used to make everything from smartphones to LEDs - held significant advantages over the solvent-based approach usually used to make lab-scale solar cells.

Commercial scale production should now not be too far off.

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