Israeli researchers discover how to lengthen life of solar panels

Cost-saving innovation allows perovskite-based cells to be recycled, possibly revolutionizing industry.

An image illustrates the use and degradation of perovskite in solar cells over time. (photo credit: Courtesy)
An image illustrates the use and degradation of perovskite in solar cells over time.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a move toward upgrading solar power technologies, a team of Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed an eco-friendly way to lengthen the lifespan of perovskite-based solar cells.
The researchers designed a new structure to hold the cells, which allows for the easy removal and replacement of perovskite, a light-sensitive material that degrades over time. The process allows for the full restoration of a panel’s photovoltaic capacities and essentially enables it to be recycled.
One of the machines used by the Hebrew University researchers. (Credit: Courtesy)One of the machines used by the Hebrew University researchers. (Credit: Courtesy)
Perovskite is a mineral structure that has the capacity to absorb light and is used as a semiconductor. The growing field of perovskite-based solar cell (PSC) technologies has gained traction in recent years, as its manufacturing costs are significantly lower than those for standard silicon-based equivalents.
Perovskite has also dramatically increased the efficiency of solar cells.
“Before this research, it was impossible [to remove perovskite],” Prof. Lioz Etgar, head of the Excitonic Solar Cells Research Group and a chemistry professor at the university, told The Media Line.
“You needed to throw out the whole solar cell and make a new one, so this is one of the advantages of this technology,” Etgar, who led the research, explained. “We took one step forward and actually designed a new architecture for solar cells.”
The new technology paves the way for more sustainable solar power production, he adds.
Etgar’s findings were published last week in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) journal.
Avi Schneider, a PhD student in the university’s Department of Applied Physics, was part of Etgar’s research team. According to him, the secret to the new PSC is in the implementation of a layer of stable oxides.
“The main advance here was firstly using a material in the structure that hadn’t been really been used in this way so far, which is an indium tin oxide layer,” Schneider told The Media Line. “This layer acts as an electrode of the cell, but it’s also a stable material that allows for us to be able to remove any degraded perovskite.”
The use of this oxide, he notes, provides a cost-effective way to prolong the use of solar cells.
“The perovskite is the key component in the solar cell, but it is also the most sensitive and the most likely to be the one to be damaged over time,” Schneider said.
“It in itself is not an expensive material,” he added, “but the materials that compose the cells – metals and oxides usually – are not so cheap to produce or synthesize. They are costly.”
Another advantage of this new structure is that each layer of the solar cell can be easily manufactured by using a method known as screen printing. This allows for the technology to be mass-produced and could be implemented in industrial production.
“The combination of [printing] and the fact that we’re producing a structure that can be renewed definitely gives prospects for a cell that can be commercial[ized],” Schneider stressed. “This is the first step.”
Etgar echoes these sentiments and says he is already looking into scaling up the use of the new technology. In fact, he revealed that there are plans to launch a startup in the near future.
Israel is currently seeking to raise its renewable energy output to 30% of the country’s energy consumption by 2030.
On Monday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz convened an inter-ministerial team to advance the use of solar power and reduce energy costs, a move that could significantly decrease air pollution emitted by power plants, and also save the Israeli economy NIS 8 billion ($2.4 billion) a year.
As a result of the initiative, solar installations are expected to dramatically increase.
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