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New material to pave the way for lead-free solar panels

By
Brooks Hays
Scientists have developed a new material that can be used to build more efficient solar cells without the use of lead, a health hazard. Photo by Purdue University/Erin Easterling
Scientists have developed a new material that can be used to build more efficient solar cells without the use of lead, a health hazard. Photo by Purdue University/Erin Easterling

Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a new material that could be used to make solar panels without lead.

Over the last decade, the quest to build a better, more efficient solar panel has centered on a mineral called perovskite. Solar panels made using the calcium titanium oxide mineral capture up to 28 percent of solar energy, while the best commercial panels boast efficiencies between 15 and 18 percent.

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But building perovskite panels at scale has proven difficult. The material is unstable and contains water-soluble lead, a health hazard.

To build a safer solar panel, scientists developed a new hybrid material featuring organic and inorganic materials. The material's sandwich-like structure doesn't require lead and is much more stable.

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Scientists described the new material this week in the journal Nature Chemistry.

"The energy and charge transfers between adjacent organic and inorganic layers are shown to be fast and efficient, owing to the atomically flat interface and ultrasmall interlayer distance of the perovskite materials," scientists wrote in their paper.

The study's authors suggest the new material could be used in a variety of electronic components and technologies.

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"These structures are very exciting," Letian Dou, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University, said in a news release. "The sandwich structures are like semiconductor quantum wells that are widely used today in many electronic and optoelectronic devices, but they are much easier to produce and more tolerant to defects."

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Dou and his colleagues previously used the organic-inorganic hybrid perovskite material to build a field effect transistor, a component in many electronic technologies that uses an electric field to control the flow of current.

According to Yao Gao, lead author of the new study and a postdoctoral fellow in Dou's research group at Purdue, the new material outperforms and is cheaper than a traditional inorganic semiconductor.

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"Solar cells, as many people have demonstrated, can be highly efficient," Gao said. "With our new technology, we can make the hybrid perovskite materials intrinsically more stable. By replacing the toxic lead, these new materials are better for the environment and can also be safely used for bioelectronics sensors on the body."

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