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Solar panels are reaching their limit. These crystals could change that. #GODER

Solar panels made from materials called perovskites could change how we generate electricity, opening the door to flexible and even transparent solar panels.

Scientists have now discovered a whole class of perovskite materials that share a specific structure, incorporating three different chemicals within a cubic crystal shape. They recognized years ago that some perovskites were semiconductors, like the silicon used in electronics. But it was only in 2009 that researchers found perovskites could also be used to build solar cells, which turn sunlight into usable electricity.

The first perovskite cells had very low efficiencies, so most of the sunlight that fell on them wasn’t used. But they’ve rapidly improved.

“The efficiency with which solar cells that have these perovskite materials convert sunlight to electrons has increased at a really incredible rate, to the extent that now the efficiencies are close to those of silicon solar cells in the lab,” said Lynn Loo, a professor of chemical engineering at Princeton University and the director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. “That's why we are so excited about this class of materials."

Perovskite solar cells can also be made relatively easily – unlike silicon cells, which need to be refined at very high temperatures and so need a lot of energy to make. Perovskites can be made as thin sheets at low temperatures, or as inks that can effectively be “printed” onto substrates of other materials, such as flexible rolls of plastic.

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