New technique to create a perfect new generation solar material


A sensational new solar material known as organic-inorganic halide perovskites may soon allow the United States to meet its solar targets and decarbonize the power grid. Perovskite solar materials are a thousand times thinner than silicon and can be modified to meet different colors of the solar spectrum simply by changing their composition.

A new technique at Advanced Light Source reveals what happens (left to right) in the second before, during and after a drop of a solidifying agent turns a liquid precursor solution into a solar perovskite material. Image Credit: Berkeley Lab

Usually made from organic molecules such as methylammonium and inorganic metal halides such as lead iodide, hybrid perovskite solar materials have high tolerance to defects in their molecular structure and absorb visible light better than silicon, the solar industry standard.

Taken together, these characteristics make perovskites potential active layers not only in photovoltaics (technologies that transform light into electricity), but also in other types of electronic instruments that react or control light, especially diodes. electroluminescent (LEDs), lasers and detectors.

Corn “Although perovskites offer great potential for greatly developing solar energy, they have not yet been commercialized because their reliable synthesis and long-term stability have long challenged scientists” said Carolin Sutter-Fella, researcher at Molecular Foundry, a facility of nanoscience users at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Laboratory). “Now, a path to perfect perovskites may soon be at hand.”

A recent Nature Communication A study co-led by Sutter-Fella indicates that the production of solar materials could be aided by an advanced new instrument that uses two types of light – visible laser light and invisible x-ray light – to study crystal structure and optical characteristics of a perovskite material. is synthesized.

When people make solar thin films, they usually have a dedicated synthesis lab and have to go to another lab to characterize it. With our development, you can fully synthesize and characterize a material at the same time, in one place.

Carolin Sutter-Fella, Scientist, Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

For this study, Sutter-Fella assembled an international team of renowned researchers and engineers to equip an X-ray beamline end station with an advanced light source laser (ALS) from Berkeley Lab.

The very intense x-ray light of the new instrument allows scientists to test the crystal structure of the perovskite material and reveal details of rapid chemical processes. For example, it can be used to characterize what happens in the second before and after a drop of a solidifying agent converts a liquid precursor solution into a solid thin film.

Simultaneously, its laser can be used to develop electrons and holes (carriers of electric charge) in the thin film of perovskite, allowing researchers to visualize the reaction of a solar material to light, whether as a product. finished or during the transient stages of the synthesis of the material.

Equipping an x-ray beamline end station with a laser allows users to probe these complementary properties simultaneously.

Carolin Sutter-Fella, Scientist, Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

This combination of simultaneous measurements could be part of a programmed workflow to track the fabrication of perovskites and other functional materials in real time for process and quality control.

Perovskite films are typically made by spin coating, an inexpensive method that does not require expensive equipment or complex chemical setups. The case of perovskites becomes even clearer when you consider how energy intensive it is to simply synthesize silicon in a solar device. While silicon needs a processing temperature of around 2,732 ° F, perovskites can be effortlessly synthesized from room temperature solution up to only 302 ° F.

The first author, Shambhavi Pratap, who studies the use of X-rays to analyze thin-film solar energy materials, had a key role to play in the creation of the instrument as an ALS doctoral student. She recently completed her doctoral studies in the Müller-Buschbaum group at the Technical University of Munich.

“The instrument will allow researchers to document how small things that are generally taken for granted can have a big impact on the quality and performance of materials,” he added. said Pratap.

When it comes to building reproducible and efficient solar cells at low cost, everything counts.

Carolin Sutter-Fella, Scientist, Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

She added that the research was a team effort that crossed a wide range of scientific disciplines.

The study is the most recent chapter in a body of work for which Sutter-Fella received the Berkeley Lab Early Career Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) award in 2017.

We know that the research community is interested in using this new capability at ALS. Now we want to make it user friendly so that more people can enjoy this terminal station.

Carolin Sutter-Fella, Scientist, Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The design of the device was led by Jonathan Slack, Senior Associate in Scientific Engineering at the ALS. Peter Müller-Buschbaum from the Technical University of Munich co-directed the research. Other co-authors include Tze-Bin Song, Finn Babbe, Camelia Stan, Zhenghao Yuan, Tina Long, Nicola Barchi, Zach Haber, and Nobumichi Tamura.

This study received support from the DOE Office of Science, the research and development program led by the early career lab at the Berkeley Lab, the German Research Foundation and the Bavarian program of the Solar Technologies Go Hybrid collaborative research project. (SolTech).

The Advanced Light Source and Molecular Foundry are national DOE user facilities at Berkeley Lab.

Using X-ray light to study solar materials at the advanced light source

In this 2019 video, first author Shambhavi Pratap from the Technical University of Munich explains how she studies thin-film solar energy materials using x-rays at the ALS. Video Credit: Marilyn Sargent / Berkeley Laboratory

Journal reference:

Pratap, S., et al. (2021). Out of equilibrium process in the crystallization of organic-inorganic perovskites during spin coating. Nature Communication.


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