SOMETIMES it takes a while for the importance of a scientific discovery to become clear. When the first perovskite, a compound of calcium, titanium and oxygen, was discovered in the Ural mountains in 1839, and named after Count Lev Perovski, a Russian mineralogist, not much happened. The name, however, has come to be used as a plural to describe a range of other compounds that share the crystal structure of the original. In 2006 interest perked up when Tsutomu Miyasaka of Toin University in Japan discovered that some perovskites are semiconductors and showed particular promise as the basis of a new type of solar cell.
In 2012 Henry Snaith of the University of Oxford, in Britain, and his colleagues found a way to make perovskite solar cells with an efficiency (measured in terms of how well a cell converts light into electric current) of just over 10%. This was such a good conversion rate that Dr Snaith immediately switched the direction of Oxford Photovoltaics, a firm he had co-founded to develop new…Continue reading