From DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University: “Squeezing a rock-star material could make it stable enough for solar cells”

From DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory


Stanford University Name

Stanford University

January 21, 2021 [Just now in social media.]
By Glennda Chui

A promising lead halide perovskite is great at converting sunlight to electricity, but it breaks down at room temperature. Now scientists have discovered how to stabilize it with pressure from a diamond anvil cell.

Scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University discovered that squeezing a promising lead halide material in a diamond anvil cell (left) produces a so-called “black perovskite” (right) that’s stable enough for solar power applications.
Credit: Greg Stewart/ SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Among the materials known as perovskites, one of the most exciting is a material that can convert sunlight to electricity as efficiently as today’s commercial silicon solar cells and has the potential for being much cheaper and easier to manufacture.

There’s just one problem: Of the four possible atomic configurations, or phases, this material can take, three are efficient but unstable at room temperature and in ordinary environments, and they quickly revert to the fourth phase, which is completely useless for solar applications.

Now scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have found a novel solution: Simply place the useless version of the material in a diamond anvil cell and squeeze it at high temperature. This treatment nudges its atomic structure into an efficient configuration and keeps it that way, even at room temperature and in relatively moist air.

The researchers described their results in Nature Communications.

“This is the first study to use pressure to control this stability, and it really opens up a lot of possibilities,” said Yu Lin, a SLAC staff scientist and investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES).

“Now that we’ve found this optimal way to prepare the material,” she said, “there’s potential for scaling it up for industrial production, and for using this same approach to manipulate other perovskite phases.”

A search for stability

Perovskites get their name from a natural mineral with the same atomic structure. In this case the scientists studied a lead halide perovskite that’s a combination of iodine, lead and cesium.

One phase of this material, known as the yellow phase, does not have a true perovskite structure and can’t be used in solar cells. However, scientists discovered a while back that if you process it in certain ways, it changes to a black perovskite phase that’s extremely efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. “This has made it highly sought after and the focus of a lot of research,” said Stanford Professor and study co-author Wendy Mao.

Unfortunately, these black phases are also structurally unstable and tend to quickly slump back into the useless configuration. Plus, they only operate with high efficiency at high temperatures, Mao said, and researchers will have to overcome both of those problems before they can be used in practical devices.

There had been previous attempts to stabilize the black phases with chemistry, strain or temperature, but only in a moisture-free environment that doesn’t reflect the real-world conditions that solar cells operate in. This study combined both pressure and temperature in a more realistic working environment.

Pressure and heat do the trick

Working with colleagues in the Stanford research groups of Mao and Professor Hemamala Karunadasa, Lin and postdoctoral researcher Feng Ke designed a setup where yellow phase crystals were squeezed between the tips of diamonds in what’s known as a diamond anvil cell. With the pressure still on, the crystals were heated to 450 degrees Celsius and then cooled down.

Under the right combination of pressure and temperature, the crystals turned from yellow to black and stayed in the black phase after the pressure was released, the scientists said. They were resistant to deterioration from moist air and remained stable and efficient at room temperature for 10 to 30 days or more.

Examination with X-rays and other techniques confirmed the shift in the material’s crystal structure, and calculations by SIMES theorists Chunjing Jia and Thomas Devereaux provided insight into how the pressure changed the structure and preserved the black phase.

The pressure needed to turn the crystals black and keep them that way was roughly 1,000 to 6,000 times atmospheric pressure, Lin said ­– about a tenth of the pressures routinely used in the synthetic diamond industry. So one of the goals for further research will be to transfer what the researchers have learned from their diamond anvil cell experiments to industry and scale up the process to bring it within the realm of manufacturing.

Wendy Mao and Hemamala Karunadasa are also SIMES investigators. Parts of this work were performed at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory and the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It also used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). All three are DOE Office of Science user facilities. Major funding came from the DOE Office of Science.

ANL Advanced Photon Source.


National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

NERSC Cray Cori II supercomputer, named after Gerty Cori, the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science.

NERSC Hopper Cray XE6 supercomputer, named after Grace Hopper, One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer.

NERSC Cray XC30 Edison supercomputer.

NERSC GPFS for Life Sciences.

The Genepool system is a cluster dedicated to the DOE Joint Genome Institute’s computing needs. Denovo is a smaller test system for Genepool that is primarily used by NERSC staff to test new system configurations and software.

NERSC PDSF computer cluster in 2003.

PDSF is a networked distributed computing cluster designed primarily to meet the detector simulation and data analysis requirements of physics, astrophysics and nuclear science collaborations.


Cray Shasta Perlmutter SC18 AMD Epyc Nvidia pre-exascale supeercomputer

NERSC is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

See the full article here .

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Stanford University campus. No image credit

Stanford University

Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

Stanford University Seal

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

SLAC National Accelerator Lab


SLAC/LCLS II projected view

SLAC LCLS-II Undulators The Linac Coherent Light Source’s new undulators each use an intricately tuned series of magnets to convert electron energy into intense bursts of X-rays. The “soft” X-ray undulator stretches for 100 meters on the left side of this hall, with the “hard” x-ray undulator on the right. Credit: Alberto Gamazo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

SSRL and LCLS are DOE Office of Science user facilities.