Developments in New Materials Capable of Formulating More Efficient Cells to Take-over Global Solar Cell Material Market

Published On : 29 Oct 2018

Vast developments have been seen in the field of solar power in the past few decades and new technological breakthroughs have made the development of more efficient varieties of solar PV cells easily possible. Improvement of efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar cells has remained the paramount focus of most development efforts as solar cells are the soul of solar PV systems. In this sense, the materials used to manufacture solar cells, the choice of which plays a decisive factor in determining the conversion efficiency of the cell in question, are also the very crux of solar PV systems as the amount of sun light that will be converted into electrical currents is dependent on the material put to use.

Presently, the most common varieties of solar cells have an efficiency of nearly 15-18%. This translates into a nearly 82-85% loss of sunlight that hits these cells. Improvement of this ratio is one of the foremost concerns of scientists presently and the scenario has led to a vast rise in R&D activities related to solar cell materials and several new materials have undergone experiments while some have been brought to actual use. While traditional crystalline silicon continues to remain one of the most popular materials used for manufacturing wafer-based PV cells, which form nearly 80% of the overall PV cells installed across the globe presently, new materials such as perovskite and gallium arsenide are being increasingly used.

What developments are seen in the PV materials sector presently?

The dominance of wafer-based PV cells is not presently threatened by cells made by any other material presently, with chief reasons behind the high popularity of these cells being low cost, ease of maintenance, and easy availability of raw materials. However, thin-film cells made of materials such as cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, copper zinc tin sulphide, and perovskite materials such as methylammonium lead halide are subtly changing the dynamics of the market through PV cells that promise a much improved conversion efficiency and improved overall performance.

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Cadmium telluride cells currently account for nearly 5% of the overall solar power market and while the numbers are further lower for cells made from other materials, such as the mere 2% share of copper indium gallium selenide cells, underway R&D activities are making these cells more easily available and affordable. As such, these new PV cell varieties are expected to bring about a slow but massive change in the overall dynamics of the global solar power industry in the imminent future.

Perovskite Materials Promise Development of 3rd Generation of PV Cells

Solar cells that contain a perovskite structured compound, commonly a tin or led halide-based material, as the active, light harvesting layer, are said to have the potential of overcoming the current issues with PV cells in terms of performance and efficiency levels or limits. The intrinsic properties of perovskites such as long lifetime of carrier separation, fast separation of charge, and broad spectrum of absorption make them highly promising materials for a number of solid-state solar power technologies. Perovskite cells have demonstrated conversion efficiencies over 20% in several lab studies. The actual use of perovskite PV cells still has a lot of challenges and the technologies is relatively not close to large-scale commercialization. However, a lot of work is being put into overcoming these challenges and R&D activities are taking place at full force, raising hope that solar cells made of perovskite materials will soon be put to use. 

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