Transforming Solar Energy with Solution-Processed Materials
Thin-film solar cells made from solution-processed crystalline materials are promising alternatives to silicon wafers, the core component that converts light into electricity in most solar panels today. Manufacturing silicon wafers requires high temperatures and specialized facilities. By contrast, thin-film solar cells made with crystalline materials such as metal halide perovskites (MHPs) and hybrid Ruddlesden-Popper phases (HRPPs) could be mass produced using low-cost solution processing in standard laboratory conditions. But the compositional and processing complexities are potentially overwhelming. With all the possible combinations of chemical components and assembly pathways, solution processing could produce millions of distinct MHP and HRPP thin films—each with potentially different chemical and electronic properties. How can chemists identify the components and pathways that will optimize MHP and HRPP thin films for solar energy devices?
Lara A. Estroff, Materials Science and Engineering, is leading a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team to build an innovative materials design process—using new and existing machine-learning tools—that will accelerate development of MHPs, HRPPs, and other solution-processed crystalline energy materials. The researchers’ three interrelated objectives are to 1) decipher crystallization and assembly pathways of solution-processed materials as a function of solution chemistry, processing variables, and substrates; 2) engineer materials with tailor-made electronic and ionic conductivities; and 3) design efficient, stable, reproducible, and scalable devices.
This research will generate a design process broadly applicable to many solution-processed materials systems. The results could transform the United States solar industry by developing stable and reproducible devices made from earth-abundant components, using low-cost, low-energy methods.