New solar panels are cheaper, more environmentally sustainable

Scientists from Northwestern University have created a new type of solar panel that is less expensive to produce, better for the environment, and could eventually be more efficient at capturing the suns rays and turning them into energy.
Perovskite solar panels, solar cells with a crystal structure similar to that of calcium titanium oxide, have been around since 2008– but only in laboratories. A key component of perovskite cells (until now) is lead, which is used to absorb light into the solar cell.
A downside of using lead is its toxicity, which can poison the environment, and waterways if introduced to nature. Humans and animals exposed to large amounts of lead can contract lead poisoning.

Perovskite Tin
Perovskite cells made of tin that can be used in the new perovskite cell design. Image courtesy of University of Oxford Press.

Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Robert P. H. Chang, inorganic chemists and study authors, created new perovskite solar cells, but have replaced the harmful lead with cheaper, more environmentally friendly tin. The tin in the new perovskite cells absorbs the suns rays, and converts them into energy.
The tin perovskite cells have an efficiency of below 6%; Kanatzidis hopes this can be impproved upon in future generations of the tin cell. “Other scientists will see what we have done and improve on our methods,” Kanatzidis explains. “There is no reason this new material can’t reach an efficiency better than 15 percent.”
While most of the solar cells you see today are have an efficiency of between 30–40%, they are made of silicon and are expensive to produce. The benefit of lead perovskite cells is how inexpensive they are to create, and replacing the lead with tin should drive down the production cost even further.
The study was published in Nature Photonics on May 4. Find out more about how solar panels work, or figure out how to install solar panels of your own.
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