NUST MISIS scientists develop the first flexible Russian thin-filmed solar cell

A group of NUST MISIS scientists led by Professor Anvar Zakhidov has revealed a cutting edge development, creating a thin-filmed photoelectric cell based on hybrid metal-organic compounds called perovskites.

These perovskites can convert solar energy radiation into electric energy with a performance coefficient of more than 15%, and with a planned rate of 20%. Before long, this new technology will give way to light, flexible, and cheap solar panels based on perovskites to be used for charging and powering a bevy of electronic devices, from tablets to buildings’ electrical grids.

Following the success of silicon solar batteries, solar power has been developing for quite some time. However, a significant drawback of this technology is its expensiveness, due largely to the high-tech, power-consuming, and toxic production of silicon, which in turn offers little flexibility, is quite fragile, and is organized in a large mass of panels. These factors greatly narrow its range of application.

The metal-organic perovskites are a revolution in materials for optoelectronics and solar energy, increasing the field’s capabilities immeasurably. The uniqueness is in the conversion mechanism’s efficiency of turning solar energy into electric energy.

For the first time in Russia, NUST MISIS’s science team—consisting of scientists from the Energy Efficiency Center, the Department of Semiconductor Electronics and Semiconductor Physics—in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Texas at Dallas, has created a prototype tandem device with the application of photovoltaic cells in monolithic compounds with the use of carbon nanotubes. The multilayer tandem can combine subcells from perovskite (from the basis of lead iodide and methylammonium halide) with traditional silicon solar cells to convert the entire spectrum of visible radiation from sunlight into usable electricity.

“NUST MISIS scientists are the first science team in Russia who’ve managed to create a prototype of perovskite tandem photo electronic cells. This project has no analogues in Russia and it promises to become a breakthrough in the field of autonomous energy. Now, scientists are testing the obtained prototype of the device and are planning to implement it in commercial trials in 2017”, said Alevtina Chernikova, Rector of NUST MISIS.

The main competitive advantage of perovskite, which brings photovoltaics to a new level, is the active layers of the solar cells that can be applied from liquid solutions on thin and flexible substrates. The commonly named “Roll-to-roll” technology allows the placement of solar batteries on any surface with curvatures. This technology’s application range, enhanced by its “charging from the Sun”, is significantly extended in comparison with traditional silicon solar batteries. This new technology will influence portable electronics, the automotive industry, household appliances, “smart house” technologies, and in general transform the power supply of buildings.

Today, the estimated cost of perovskite solar panels is less than $100 per square meter, while the best silicon panels cost about $300 per square meter. In mass production that price difference is expected to be amplified by as much as 6 times. The savings from the switch to perovskite solar panels will be enormous, and the cheap production of the new class of devices will significantly reduce the use of traditional energy, turning people instead to environmentally friendly and affordable photovoltaics.

“The main advantage of the hybrid pervoskites is the ease of obtaining them from the metal salts and industrial organic chemical compounds instead of the rare and expensive elements used in high-performance semiconductor parallels like solar batteries based on silicon and gallium arsenide. Of no less importance is the fact that perovskite-based materials can be used for printing photo electronics not only on glass, but also on a wide variety of materials and surfaces. This makes the batteries much cheaper than the more sophisticated methods of obtaining thin-filmed solar cells”, said Professor Anvar Zakhidov, the head of the project.

Perovskite crystals were discovered in 1839 in the southern part of the Ural Mountains. Its unusual crystal structure, such as the ABX3 type, is named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, who discovered one of the crystal’s species. Today, perovskites used for the production of photovoltaic elements are synthesized from simple and affordable chemical elements like iodine, ammonium salt, boron, and lead. Hybrid perovskites—where A is an organic molecule (e.g. Methylamine), B is a metal (Pb or Sn), and X is halogen (I, Br, Cl)—currently comprises the most advanced area of research in the field of third generation solar energy. Significant discoveries about perovskite`s creation of super alloys are eventually expected from Russian and NUST MISIS scientists.

Professor Anvar Zakhidov is a leading scientist of the NUST MISIS Energy Efficiency Center, head of the project under the Project 5-100, and a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. Professor Zakhidov heads the joint Russian-American science team engaged in the development of perovskite energy sources.