An Australian scientist’s do-it-yourself device, which started out as a hobby and took off during COVID-19, could help to unlock the next generation of solar energy, including advanced technology for space missions.
A combination of a microscope and a special laser, the first-of-its-kind device produces pictures and maps of the defects within perovskite solar cells. It pinpoints the areas where the cells are losing power or efficiency over time and use, while also providing data to indicate why.
An example of micro-spectroscopy, the innovative technique started life as a personal project for Jamie Laird, a research fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science and the University of Melbourne – it was originally intended to analyse minerals. However, when he joined Exciton Science, Laird realised that his gadget would be a perfect tool to help his colleagues – and other leading solar cell researchers around the world – to better understand the frustrating issues that have kept perovskites from fulfilling their exciting promise.
Perovskite solar cells can match silicon for efficiency, are cheaper to manufacture and more flexible, but they haven’t become commercially viable yet because they’re still too unstable when exposed to heat, light, moisture and oxygen.
‘The basis of the technique is microscopy but merging it with frequency analysis,’ Laird said. ‘We use a laser beam and we focus to a spot and scan across the device to measure the quality of the solar cell. This new method allows us to do imaging analysis of whole or complete solar cells and look at how they perform, how they change with time and aging, and how good a solar cell they are.’
In addition to partners at Monash University, a team from the University of Oxford is already sending samples of cutting-edge prototypes to be tested by Laird’s homemade machine. University of Sydney scientists working on experimental solar cells for satellites and other space vehicles are also on the waiting list to collaborate.
‘You can’t have a solar cell that decomposes quickly when it’s meant to last 20 years in the field,’ Laird said. ‘This is a missing link in the repertoire of techniques we have to throw at that problem.’
The research has been published in Small Methods.