In June 2017, Professor Ernesto Julio Calvo won the DSM Bright Minds Challenge for Inquimae. Traditionally, lithium - the lifeblood of battery technology - is available through one source and one source only: extraction from giant salt lakes or ‘flats. It’s a very slow process that wastes millions of gallons of water while releasing sodium chloride and magnesium sulfate waste into the air and soil. Or at least, it was. Ernesto’s revolutionary electrochemical method uses solar power to extract the lithium…but with zero environmental impact.
Today, perovskite crystals - classified 100 years ago after being found in the rocks of the Ural Mountains - are fast making a name for themselves in the world of solar science thanks to many unique properties - from their flexible, crystalline structure to their ability to absorb light.
Tomorrow? Perovskite could be a household name, literally. There’s every chance that solar cells made with perovskite (instead of traditional silicon) could be heating our homes instead of fossil fuels: In the windows, the roof, and even the walls.
How and why did this happen? Olga Malinkiewicz was that student. Today she is the CTO of her own start-up, Saule Technologies. “I first saw a demonstration of the material at a conference in Seville. I could see that it had potential to convert the sun’s energy very efficiently - and I couldn’t believe that device preparation in the case of perovskite solar cells was so simple!” she says. “The attraction was instant. When I returned from the conference I abandoned my previous research into organic solar cells and focused 100% on perovskite.”