Researchers use liquid inks to create better solar cells

September 17, 2014 by Shaun Mason, University of California, Los Angeles

Diagram showing elemental layers of kesterite (CZTS, left) and perovskite. Credit: UCLA
( —The basic function of solar cells is to harvest sunlight and turn it into electricity. Thus, it is critically important that the film that collects the light on the surface of the cell is designed for the best energy absorption. The quest to develop more efficient solar cells has resulted in a fierce competition among scientists to find the lowest cost and highest energy materials.

Toward that goal, a diverse team of UCLA scientists from the California NanoSystems Institute is improving the efficiency of new film materials that are revolutionizing . Researchers led by Professor Yang Yang, the Carol and Lawrence E. Tannas Jr. Professor of Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, recently published two studies in which they increased the efficiency of the materials kesterite and perovskite for making highly efficient and low-cost .


Kesterite is an inorganic substance (not derived from plants or animals) that is made from abundant materials, such as copper, zinc, tin and sulfur. The UCLA team has developed a way to increase the conversion of sunlight to electricity by controlling the composition and dispersion of kesterite nanocrystals in an ink that's used to create the film used in solar cells.

In a paper published online Aug. 8 in the journal ACS Nano, the Yang group showed that their ability to control and improve the spatial composition and distribution of nanocrystals in the kesterite ink improved its power to 8.6 percent with a consistent and repeatable technique.

"The device uses copper, zinc and tin, and we were able to control the ratio of the elements to make the nanocrystals better," said Huanping Zhou, a postdoctoral scholar and first author of the study. "One problem in the past was too many defects in the film due to the element distribution problem. We are now synthesizing the nanocrystals in a way to precisely control the spatial elements and distribution in the film. This allows us to maximize ."

Yang said that the team was able to do a full solution process with the material. "That means that all the solar cell element layers needed—the adsorbent, the electrode, etc., are liquid that can be sprayed or painted on a surface to make that surface a solar cell," he said. "That could be the roof of an electric car, or a building's outer walls, windows or roof."

Yang also pointed out that kesterite is very stable, and that copper, zinc and tin are inexpensive and widely available.


Perovskite is an organic and inorganic hybrid material that combines carbon and lead. Since it was first used as five years ago, improvements have advanced its to nearly 20 percent, as shown in a study published in the journal Science on Aug. 1.

"We have developed a technique for controlling the formation of the perovskite to make a solar cell with just under 20 percent efficiency," said Qi Chen, post-doctoral scholar and first author on the study with Zhou, "Perovskite is a very low cost material to produce and is very thin, one one-thousandth of the thickness of a normal silicon solar cell. It can be made flexible, hung on the wall, or could be used to build a solar farm."

Perovskite also begins as a liquid ink, and the UCLA researchers delicately controlled the dynamics of the material during its growth, which is done in air at low temperatures. This makes manufacture of large-area perovskite devices with high performance levels inexpensive. The improved technique can be used in perovskite-based devices of such differing applications as light-emitting diodes, field-effect transistors, and sensors.

Chen said that because currently perovskite is unstable in air and deteriorates over time, the researchers are working on long-term stability to make it more stable. And because lead is a toxic element, environmentally friendly lead-free perovskite materials would be an attractive topic in the future.

Yang said that with the competition in low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells being so hot, his team pursues as many avenues as they can toward the goal of having the most efficient, lowest-cost solar cells.

Explore further: Scientists develop pioneering new spray-on solar cells

More information: "Spatial Element Distribution Control in a Fully Solution-Processed Nanocrystals-Based 8.6% Cu2ZnSn(S,Se)4" Device Wan-Ching Hsu, Huanping Zhou, Song Luo, Tze-Bin Song, Yao-Tsung Hsieh, Hsin-Sheng Duan, Shenglin Ye, Wenbing Yang, Chia-Jung Hsu, Chengyang Jiang, Brion Bob, and Yang Yang. ACS Nano Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn503992e

"Interface engineering of highly efficient perovskite solar cells" is available online: … -2014-Zhou-542-6.pdf

Related Stories

Scientists develop pioneering new spray-on solar cells

August 1, 2014

( —A team of scientists at the University of Sheffield are the first to fabricate perovskite solar cells using a spray-painting process – a discovery that could help cut the cost of solar electricity.

A new stable and cost-cutting type of perovskite solar cell

July 17, 2014

Perovskite solar cells show tremendous promise in propelling solar power into the marketplace. The cells use a hole-transportation layer, which promotes the efficient movement of electrical current after exposure to sunlight. ...

Inexpensive flexible fiber perovskite solar cells

August 4, 2014

( —Textile solar cells are an ideal power source for small electronic devices incorporated into clothing. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists have now introduced novel solar cells in the form of ...

Recycling old batteries into solar cells

August 18, 2014

This could be a classic win-win solution: A system proposed by researchers at MIT recycles materials from discarded car batteries—a potential source of lead pollution—into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free ...

Recommended for you

Solving mazes with single-molecule DNA navigators

November 16, 2018

The field of intelligent nanorobotics is based on the great promise of molecular devices with information processing capabilities. In a new study that supports the trend of DNA-based information carriers, scientists have ...

A way to make batteries almost any shape desired

November 16, 2018

A team of researchers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Harvard University and Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology has developed a way to make batteries in almost any shape that can be imagined. ...

Graphene flickers at 400Hz in 2500ppi displays

November 16, 2018

With virtual reality (VR) sizzling in every electronic fair, there is a need for displays with higher resolution, frame rates and power efficiency. Now, a joint collaboration of researchers from SCALE Nanotech, Graphenea ...

'Smart skin' simplifies spotting strain in structures

November 15, 2018

Thanks to one peculiar characteristic of carbon nanotubes, engineers will soon be able to measure the accumulated strain in an airplane, a bridge or a pipeline – or just about anything – over the entire surface or down ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 17, 2014
Would someone please stop doing research and start doing mass production?

Well, okay, keep up the research but when can I start buying rolls of cheap-as-chips solar cells in my local DIY shop? They don't have to be 50% efficient or even 25% - the close to 20% sounds good enough if they're really cheap.
Sep 17, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sep 17, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.