Enlarge / Perovskite crystals in a photovoltaic cell. (credit: Los Alamos National Lab)
Currently, silicon is the dominant technology for photovoltaic solar power.

There are a handful of competing thin-film technologies, which are easier to manufacture but rely on more expensive raw materials and don’t reach the same efficiencies.

These sorts of trade offs have helped drive research into perovskite solar cells, which rely on cheap and abundant raw materials but have the potential for much higher efficiencies.
Still, perovskites have two significant issues. One is that the ability to integrate them into mass production techniques hasn’t been demonstrated.

The second is that they tend to decay pretty rapidly in the real world.

There’s been some progress on issue two recently, and now a team at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL)* has figured out a way to make a perovskite “ink” that should allow mass-manufacturing of the material.
Perovskites aren’t actually a single material; instead, they’re a class of materials that all share the same general crystal structure. Many of them involve a small organic chemical and metals like lead, along with some other simple chemicals.

The best perovskites are closing in on silicon, with efficiencies well over 20 percent (meaning over 20 percent of the incoming sunlight is converted to electricity).

Critically, crystals of perovskites are easy to form from a water-based solution, meaning that it should be possible to coat all sorts of materials with a photovoltaic material using manufacturing tech that’s been in use for decades.
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