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Australian engineers develop “British weather-proof” solar cells


25th Feb 2020

As countries around the world strive to curb climate change, it becomes increasingly clear that radical innovative energy solutions are needed if we are to stand any chance of achieving net zero emissions.

A team of engineers at the University of Queensland may have provided one such solution in the field of quantum dot solar cell technology, achieving a near 25% improvement, and a world record for the conversion of solar energy into electricity using quantum dots.

Inventor, and Australian Research Council Laureate, Lianzhou Wang, explains that the improvement “is effectively the difference between quantum dot solar cell technology being an exciting prospect and being commercially viable”.

 

Why so exciting?

Traditional silicon-based solar cell technology requires heavy, rigid panels and bright conditions for efficient results, which significantly limits their range of application. Quantum dot solar cells, on the other hand, are lightweight, flexible and work under weaker light conditions. This makes them suitable for a much broader range of applications, including houses, cars, phones and wearable technology. On top of all that, Wang describes the technology as “British weather proof” because it can produce energy indoors, or even when it is cloudy and wet.

 

How does it work?

Quantum dots are nanoparticles of semiconductor material – in this case perovskite – able to carry a charge. The previous efficiency record of 13.4% was set in 2017. The team at Queensland University attribute their record breaking achievement of 16.6% efficiency to a new surface engineering strategy. This  allows them to better control the synthesis of the quantum dot material and overcome previous challenges of roughness and instability. The technology is described in the paper Ligand-assisted cation-exchange engineering for high-efficiency colloidal Cs1−xFAxPbI3 quantum dot solar cells with reduced phase segregation, published in Nature Energy.

 

What next?

Wang and his team’s next challenge is to increase efficiency from their current world record of 16.6% to 20%. At this point efficiency will exceed that achieved by traditional solar panels currently seen on people’s roofs. The economics remain a challenge, as traditional solar panels are already very cheap. However, the potential for printing quantum dots onto a lightweight, flexible substrate means that the prospects for a low cost solution are good. The concept of a lightweight flexible skin that could be incorporated into a car’s body work, a phone case or an item of clothing is clearly very attractive, given the right efficiency levels and the right price.

It’s too early to know exactly what intellectual property protection is in place for the Queensland team’s technology, although patent data shows them to be active filers in the renewable energy field. And with investors looking increasingly to the renewable energy field for new and exciting prospects, patents for this technology would leave them well placed to reap the rewards of their innovation when it is commercialised.

 

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

Author
Georgina Ainscow
Senior Associate
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Georgina Ainscow who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901

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