Making solar cells out of silicon is difficult. There’s plenty of manufacturing steps, many of them at very high temperatures, and you need a high vacuum and a clean room. However, perovskite solar cells–cells made with hybrid organic-inorganic materials in a perovskite crystal structure–are relatively easy to make using wet chemistry involving solvents or vapor deposition.
In theory, silicon solar cells could be 30% efficient, but in reality, 25% seems to be a practical limit with commercial cells typically topping out at 20%. Perovskite cells are nearly that high now, and could be higher by stacking thin layers, each sensitive to different wavelengths of light.
A recent development at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may lead to even more efficient perovskite cells. Researchers found that certain crystal structures had a much higher efficiency than other structures. The problem now is figuring out how to produce the crystals to increase the prevalence of that structure.
That’s not the only problem, though. Perovskite cells degrade quickly. The materials used tend to be water soluble, and the cell breaks down in most environments. There has been work to make longer lasting cells. The current record for efficiency in a single-junction perovskite cell is 22.1%.
Researchers hope to solve the stability problem and produce highly efficient solar films using this technology. They envision light, transparent, and cheap solar cells that would be as easy to apply as wallpaper, covering any surface that has sun exposure.
If you want to try your hand at building your own perovskite cells, you might enjoy the videos below. Notice you can actually make the cells. Usually, when we see a DIY solar project, it starts with conventional solar panels. Unless, of course, it doesn’t create electricity.