Eco-friendly Mineral Could Replace Fossil Fuels
#technology & innovation
small, Eco-friendly Mineral Could Replace Fossil Fuels, The scientific team, photo: courtesy of the producers, zespol_1.jpg
Polish scientist Olga Malinkiewicz has discovered a new way of obtaining solar energy using minerals called perovskites. Solar cells made from these minerals can now be applied to almost any surface, even a ship’s sails or a tent, and provide energy at the same cost as fossil fuels. Looks like there might be a revolution in the energy sector up ahead.
Finding out away from home that your phone battery is about to die and that you don’t have your charger with you can be a real drag. Especially if you’re expecting an important call, desperately need to take a selfie, update your status, or check the weather because the nearest window is just too far away, etc. Regardless of what you need (or don't need) your mobile for, you may want to know that there’s a new technology that should seriously limit this pesky low-battery problem. It’s a new way of obtaining solar energy discovered by Polish scientist Olga Malinkiewicz, which involves the use of minerals called perovskites. Thanks to this technology you soon might be able to get a phone capable of being charged by a solar cell on its back. No cable, no external charger needed – just sunlight.
Olga Malinkiewicz discovered this technology when she was doing doctoral research in physics at the University of Valencia a few years back. She found that perovskites can be used to make elastic solar cells at a low temperature. Perovskites are a group of common minerals that have a specific crystalline structure which enables some of them to be great converters of light to electrical energy. Solar cells based on them have been around for some time but have just recently started to be comparably efficient to traditional, silicon cells.
Malinkiewicz’s contribution to the development of perovskite-based cells is primarily two-fold. Firstly, she radically cut down their cost by devising an ingeniously simple production process. Before her breakthrough manufacturing them required an expensive and complicated heating procedure. Thanks to Malinkiewicz they can now be made at room temperature by applying cheap liquid perovskites to foil and letting them dry. Secondly, thanks to the use of foil and evaporating liquid the Polish scientist has created solar cells that are extremely thin (about 300 nanometres), light and elastic. This means that they can be put on a great number of surfaces not fit for traditional cells, such as a ship’s sails or a tent. Additionally, despite being thin Malinkiewicz’s solar cells have a high power conversion efficiency. No wonder then that for her discovery in 2014 she received the prestigious Photonics21 Student Innovation Award.
The mentioned cost-efficiency of Malinkiewicz’s solar cells is so great that the price of producing 1kw of energy from them and from fossil fuels is actually equal. That’s really something, because up until the creation of these cells all kinds of renewable energy were more expensive than energy from fossil fuels, which gave opponents of renewable energy the cardinal argument that it was economically unsound. Now that argument is gone. Add to that the fact that Malinkiewicz’s cells can be partially translucent and therefore potentially be used on windows, TV screens, or even on top of existing solar panels, and it becomes apparent that we might be in for a revolution in the energy sector. Sails, screens, walls, almost everything can become a source of energy. As if that wasn’t enough, the Pole’s cells can also be of a specific colour so they can be customized to match their surroundings.
In 2014 Olga Malinkiewicz founded the Warsaw-based firm Saule Technologies. Just recently, in March this year, the company presented its first product prototype at a tech conference in Barcelona. It was none other than a very thin perovskite-based solar charger for mobile phones. It is external and needs to be plugged in with a cable but these things are just a matter of time. Ultimately such chargers made by the company will be built into the phone and devoid of external cables. Thanks to Malinkiewicz’s technology they’ll be light and efficient enough for them to be a practical solution. Given all the attention the company is getting from the biggest international brands and other businesses it shouldn’t be long before phones with built-in perovskite cells on their backs hit the market. Meanwhile, Saule Technologies is already working on other applications of Malinkiewicz’s perovskite technology. The scientist herself would like to see a world where perovskite cells providing reasonably priced, renewable energy are commonplace.
Author: Marek Kępa, March 2016
Prototype, photo: courtesy of the producers