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New crystals yield solar power breakthrough

New materials technology has boosted the power conversion efficiency of cheap next-generation solar cells.

Called dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs), reported efficiencies of 15% make them competitive with silicon photovoltaic cells.

They create electricity from sunlight, mimicking the natural process of photosynthesis.

They are made at low temperature, work in low light, are transparent, and can be printed onto flexible surfaces.

The inventor of DSSCs, Professor Michael Graetzel of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, announced in a paper in the journal Nature, a new two-step process for DSSC fabrication which raises the efficiency of these cells to 15%.

The technology uses a dye material called perovskite for energy-harvesting. It sits on a porous nanofilm of titanium dioxide (the stuff used to paint white lines on grass tennis courts) within the solar cell.

The Lausanne group has increased the efficiency by developing an improved method for crystallising the perovskite onto the titanium dioxide film.

DSSCs work well in cloudy weather and can absorb diffused sunlight and are relatively inexpensive to construct. The latest results suggest that they could significantly lower the price per watt of power produced by solar cells.

Dr James Ball, a researcher at the department of physics, University of Oxford - who was not involved in the work - commented: "The achievement of 15% efficiency is an important landmark and this technology provides the most efficient solution-processed solar cells by a long way. This development makes them competitive with silicon solar cells, but at much lower cost."

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