Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have demonstrated a new material that is able to operate both as a solar cell during the day and as a light panel at night. They claim that since solar cells made from the new high-quality material perovskite are five times cheaper to produce than those based on silicon because of a simplified manufacturing process that works at room temperature, it could lead to efficient and inexpensive solar panels that also double up as next-generation touch and display screens.
As reported in the journal Nature Materials [Xing, et al., Nat. Mater. (2014), doi:10.1038/nmat3911], the team made their breakthrough when shining a laser beam on hybrid perovskite solar cell material they were developing, unexpectedly finding that the cell glowed brightly. Although most solar cell materials can effectively absorb light, they tend not to generate it. The material proved to be very durable under light exposure, and could either capture light particles and convert them to electricity, or vice versa. Tuning the composition of the material also means it is able to emit a wide range of colors, meaning it could be suitable as for light-emitting devices, such as flat screen displays.
The ability of the highly luminescent new perovskite material to emit light and convert light to electricity makes it well-suited for lasers and has potential for on-chip electronic devices that detect and control light. It is claimed that the material is much cheaper than standard silicon-based solar cells because of its straightforward solution-based manufacturing process that combines two or more chemicals at room temperature.
The solar cell material can also be made semi-translucent, and so could find uses as tinted glass in windows, allowing it to generate electricity from sunlight, or recharge mobile devices just by leaving them out in the sun. In addition, as the material emits light, it could find applications in decorations or in displays for the fronts of shopping malls and offices.
It is hoped the versatile and cheap material, for which the scientists have submitted a patent application, will also find uses in environmentally friendly buildings. The team is already looking to scale up of the materials for larger solar cells, which may be further adapted to manufacture light-emitting devices on a large-scale.
Copyright © 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd.