This non-toxic material could soon replace lead in solar cell technology in space

Perovskites are efficient, have a high power-to-weight ratio & high tolerance to space radiation.

What if all the world's buildings were equipped with windows and walls that satisfy all the energy needs of its residents — rain or shine?

A new generation of cheaper solar cells — that uses the mineral perovskite as an alternative to lead — has made it possible to make solar panels in a far more cost-effective manner that is safer for the environment as well. Perovskite technology is on track to revolutionise green energy tech and access to solar power for all, given its surprising physical properties according to some experts.

Now, perovskite solar cells (PSCs) are approaching practical applications.

An ink-jet printed perovskite solar module on a flexible matrix material. Image courtesy: Sollartek

An ink-jet printed perovskite solar module on a flexible matrix material. Image courtesy: Sollartek

Space is one of its many frontiers, where oxygen and moisture (two major stressors for a stable source of solar power) barely exist. Scientists have reported that they have tweaked PSCs to be stable enough in near space to put the technology to a test run.

PSCs have an outstanding efficiency, high power to weight ratio, and a high tolerance to space radiation — a combination that makes them an exciting new-generation technology for energy in space. Yet, the extreme environment of space would still pose a big challenge to the stability of these devices, and the applications of PSCs in space are only now being researched.

The miliary communications satellite GSAT-7A with its solar panelled opened up. Image courtesy: ISRO

ISRO's military communications satellite GSAT-7A with its lead-based solar panels opened up. Image courtesy: ISRO

In a new study published in Science China Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy, researchers have attempted to look at how stable perovskite solar cells with a large surface area can be in near space (within the altitude ranges for commercial airliners and orbiting satellites). The PSCs were fixed on a high-altitude balloon rising from ground to near space, which contains trace amounts of both moisture and ozone. This region of the atmosphere also has high-energy particles and space radiation (like neutrons, electrons, and gamma rays) from cosmic radiation and solar flares.

Different kinds of perovskite absorbers — with and without filters for UV — were studied, and one of the variants was found to retain 95.19 percent of its power conversion efficiency in the test.

The study's researchers anticipate that their findings will contribute to the development of stable perovskite solar cells for space.

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