solar success

Houston research team develops breakthrough process for light-harvesting crystals in DOE-backed project

Rice University engineers and collaborators developed a technology that converts light into electricity. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

A team of Rice researchers have developed a breakthrough synthesis process for developing light-harvesting materials that can be used in solar cells to convert light into electricity.

Detailed in an October study in Nature Synthesis, the new process is able to more closely control the temperature and time of the crystallization process to create 2D halide perovskites with semiconductor layers of “ideal thickness and purity,” according to a release from Rice.

The process, known as kinetically controlled space confinement, was developed by Rice University chemical and biomolecular engineer Aditya Mohite, along with others at Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Rennes. The research was backed by the Department of Energy, the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation and a number of other organizations.

“This research breakthrough is critical for the synthesis of 2D perovskites, which hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells and for many other optoelectronic device applications and fundamental light matter interactions,” Mohite said in a statement.

Traditional synthesis methods for creating 2D halide perovskites, which have been shown to offer a high-performance low-cost way to produce solar cells, have generated uneven crystal growth when attempting to reach a higher n value. And uneven crystal growth can result in a less reliable material, while a high n value can result in higher electrical conductivity, among other benefits.

The study shows how the kinetically controlled space confinement method can gradually increase n values in 2D halide perovskites, which will assist in the production of crystals with a certain thickness.

“We designed a way to slow down the crystallization and tune each kinetics parameter gradually to hit the sweet spot for phase-pure synthesis,” Jin Hou, a Ph.D. student at Rice and a lead author on a study, said in a statement.

The process is expected to improve the stability and lower the costs of emerging technologies in optoelectronics, or the study and application of light-emitting or light-detecting devices, and photovoltaics, the conversion of thermal energy into electricity.

"This work pushes the boundaries of higher quantum well 2D perovskites synthesis, making them a viable and stable option for a variety of applications,” Hou added.

Houston universities have been making major strides relating to crystallization processes in recent months.

In September, the University of Houston announced The Welch Foundation awarded its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant to establish the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization. The center will build upon UH professor Jeffrey Rimer's work relating to the use of crystals to help treat malaria and kidney stones.

Over the summer, a team of researchers at UH also published a paper detailing their discovery of how to use molecular crystals to capture large quantities of iodine, one of the most common products of radioactive fission, which is used to create nuclear energy.

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A View From HETI

The combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology. Photo via Getty Images

SLB announced its plans to combine its carbon capture business with Norway company, Aker Carbon Capture.

Upon completion of the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of this year, SLB will own 80 percent of the combined business and ACC will own 20 percent.

According to a SLB news release, the combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology.

“For CCUS to have the expected impact on supporting global net-zero ambitions, it will need to scale up 100-200 times in less than three decades,” Olivier Le Peuch, CEO of SLB, says in the release. “Crucial to this scale-up is the ability to lower capture costs, which often represent as much as 50-70% of the total spend of a CCUS project.

The International Energy Agency estimates that over one gigaton of CO2 every year year will need to be captured by 2030 — a figure that scales up to over six gigatons by 2050.

"We are excited to create this business with ACC to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture technologies that will shift the economics of carbon capture across high-emitting industrial sectors,” Le Peuch continues.

SLB is slated to pay NOK 4.12 billion — around $379.4 million — to own 80 percent of Aker Carbon Capture Holding AS, which owns ACC, per the news release, and SLB may also pay up to NOK 1.36 billion over the next three years, depending on business performance.

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