Sharing solar cell research

Together as a society we face many challenges in improving our society in a sustainable way. One such challenge is linked to our ability to develop and maintain our quality of life whilst reducing our impact on the Earth. For this, renewable energy is fundamental and its demand is ever increasing.

Preparing electron transport layers in a clean room environment

Considering the importance of electricity availability in remote areas and the globally increasing energy demand, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa and the University of Sheffield in the UK are developing solar cell technologies known as emerging photovoltaics. Along the way, we are creating networks between the UK and Africa for the support of such research (This is actively supported by GCRF-START).

Working inside a nitrogen-filled glovebox with air-sensitive materials

My name is Adam and I am a PhD student at Wits. I research hybrid-perovskite solar cells which have some key benefits over the industry standard silicon solar cells. These newly researched semiconducting materials absorb light much more efficiently than silicon solar cells.  So they can then be made much lighter and thinner without sacrificing performance, which would reduce production and installation costs. Silicon solar cells require very high temperature processing and expensive controlled environments (clean rooms) for their manufacture, whereas hybrid-perovskites solar can be fabricated at low temperatures using liquid-based processing which reduces costs and makes their production easily scalable. However, one of the biggest challenges with these hybrid-perovskites is their reduced stability compared to silicon.

Perovskite samples

At the 2018 GCRF-START meeting hosted by Wits I met a PhD student, Joel Smith from the University of Sheffield who works on the same type of materials. Joel and his colleagues are experienced at making high quality, efficient devices while at Wits we are experienced in making other materials that can be used for these devices and studying their crystal structures. Since the 2019 GCRF-START meeting was being held in the UK, we planned a research visit where I would spend a week working with Joel and his colleague Dr Onkar Game in Prof David Lidzey’s laboratory in Sheffield.

The purpose of this short visit was to share technical knowledge and work on potential ways to prevent or slow the decomposition reaction between hybrid-perovskite and zinc oxide (ZnO) films. The ZnO film is one potential layer used to extract electrons from the hybrid-perovskite layer which is needed for them to generate electricity. We placed various ultrathin layers between the ZnO and hybrid-perovskite layers to try to prevent the decomposition process. Different materials were screened to see their effect on the solar cell device performance. The team supervised by Prof. Lidzey was very friendly and welcoming. They were more than happy to share their experiences with these materials which instilled me with a plenty of ideas and information to share with my colleagues at home.

Written by Adam Shnier (left) and edited by Joel Smith (right)