The former PhD student of the University of Valencia in Spain has developed a novel inkjet processing method for perovskites (a new generation of less costly solar cells) that make it possible to produce solar panels at lower temperatures, thereby drastically reducing costs.
Some experts say that perovskite technology is currently on the pathway to revolutionize access to solar power for everyone. Solar panels coated with this mineral are flexible, light, inexpensive and efficient, coming in different hues and degrees of transparency. The panels can be easily fixed to most surfaces in order to produce electricity, even in the shade and indoors.
Perovskite has been around since at least the 1830s, when it was discovered in the Ural mountains and named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski. The following decades saw synthesis of the atomic structure become easier. It was only in 2009, however, that Japanese researcher Tsutomu Miyasaka discovered the ability to use perovskites to form photovoltaic solar cells.
A future for perovskite
While still studying at the University of Valencia, Malinkiewicz figured out a method of coating flexible foil with perovskites using evaporation. She then developed an inkjet printing procedure that lowered production costs to the point where mass production became economically feasible.
Malinkiewicz described this as the “bull’s eye” due to the ability to reduce necessary production temperatures, and therefore cost.
The discovery earned her an article in the Nature journal, along with the Photonics21 Student Innovation award – a competition organized by the European Commission.
Going on to co-found the company Saule Technologies with two Polish businessmen, she assembled all of the laboratory equipment from scratch before multimillionaire Japanese investor Hideo Sawada came on board.
The company now uses a modern and high-spec laboratory with an international team of experts. Attention is also being placed on building an industrial-scale production site.
“This will be the world’s first production line using this technology. Its capacity will reach 40,000 square metres of panels by the end of the year and 180,000 square metres the following year,” Malinkiewicz said at her lab.
“But that’s just a drop in the bucket in terms of demand.”
Self-sufficient buildings at an efficient price
Swedish construction group Skanska is currently resting the panels on the façade of one its Warsaw buildings. They have also signed a licensing partnership with Saule in December, including the exclusive rights to incorporate the company’s solar cell technology in its projects across Europe, the United States and Canada.
Adam Targowski, sustainability manager at Skanska, said “perovskite technology is bringing us closer to the goal of energy self-sufficient buildings.”
Current estimates suggest that a standard 1.3 square meter panel, with a projected cost of 50 euros, would supply a day’s worth of energy to an office workstation. Malinkiewicz insists that the initial costs of her company’s products will be comparable to conventional solar panels.
Perovskite technology is also being tested at a hotel near Nagasaki, Japan. Plans are afoot for further pilot production of perovskite panels in Valais, Switzerland and in Germany.