Nova Scotia

Dal researcher developing paint-on solar cells that can fix themselves

A Dalhousie researcher's vision is to create paint-on solar cells that can be applied to almost any surface, including clothing, cars, windows and tents.

Perovskite solar cells are cheaper and easier to produce than silicon cells

A microscopic image of perovskite structures. (Submitted by Ghada Koleilat)

A Dalhousie University researcher has a vision to create paint-on solar cells that can be applied to almost any surface, including clothing, cars, windows and tents.

"Anywhere in the world where energy is needed," said Ghada Koleilat, an assistant professor of engineering.  

Koleilat is one of eight early-career Dalhousie researchers who has been awarded $250,000 grants over two years to develop projects. The money comes from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's new frontiers in research fund.

Her team is working with a crystal-structured material that is taking off in international solar energy research — perovskite — which creates cheaper, easier to produce and more energy-efficient cells than existing silicon solar cells.

In the race to bring perovskite to market, startup companies in the U.S. and U.K. are developing perovskite and silicon panels for higher efficiency conversion of sunlight to power as well as perovskite-only panels.

Durability a factor

However, the lingering problem researchers are tackling with perovskite cells is their durability when exposed to oxygen and humidity, said Koleilat.

She is working to crack that case by designing an environmentally friendly, hybrid organic-inorganic material with perovskite that can stand the test of time.

Ghada Koleilat, an assistant professor of engineering at Dalhousie University in Halifax, is developing a hybrid solar cell that can go on almost any surface. (Submitted by Ghada Koleilat)

She looked to recent developments in polymers and plastic materials that can repair themselves when damaged.

"If a crack happens, instead of it just staying there and becoming bigger and bigger, our molecules are designed on the molecular scale [to] prevent that from happening and will close the fracture as soon as possible," she said.

Easier to produce than silicon panels

Perovskite cells can also rival the need for maintenance, resources and production time of silicon panels.

Koleilat's lab can make more than 10 solar cells out of perovskite film within three hours, she said. The film itself can be created in just 15 minutes.

With the grant and a new lab under construction, she aims to perfect the molecular recipe of her hybrid material over the next few years.

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