Putting perovskite
on the map

Meet Olga Malinkiewicz

#BRIGHTMINDSCHALLENGE

“My dream is to have solar cells that degrade like leaves on a tree – and can be replaced with new ones."

Skanska – one of Europe’s largest construction groups – is now using a new type of solar technology integrated into the building facades it manufactures to maximize the sun’s power (a topic close to DSM’s heart). Perovskite cells inkjet printed onto thin plastic sheets will enable the walls of buildings to generate electricity - and thus lower their overall carbon footprint. How? And why?

Olga Malinkiewicz

If you’re unfamiliar with the word perovskite don't be too alarmed. This strange, wonderful and obscure material first discovered in the Ural mountains some 100 years ago, was virtually unknown until several years ago, when a young Polish science student was introduced to it. Today, perovskite crystals are fast making a name for themselves in the world of solar science thanks to their flexible, crystalline structure and ability to absorb light.

Dr Olga Malinkiewicz was that student. Today she is co-founder and CTO of 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 - the attraction was instant.”

The biggest obstacle facing Olga was the fact that perovskite solar cells only worked if high temperatures (500 degrees c) were applied during the fabrication. Eventually she developed a novel cell architecture that eliminated the need for high temperatures during the process.

In the laboratory

Thanks to the wafer-thin nature of Perovskites, the solar cells can be printed onto foil - in one-meter rolls. Which in turn plays to another great benefit of this material: Its aesthetic appearance.

Today’s photovoltaic modules are often ‘blocky-looking’ structures containing rigid silicon solar panels; not always a pretty sight. However, perovskite solar cells are much thinner than silicon cells - just tenths of a micrometer thick - making them cheaper to produce and ultra-lightweight.

It means they can be seamlessly combined with glass panes; they can cover tiles (converting the entire roof into one huge photovoltaic panel); and can even be applied to the entire walls of modern buildings – as with Skanska.

In all cases the result is the same: The creation of fossil-free electricity. Says Olga: “My dream is to have solar cells that after some time will degrade like leaves on a tree – and can be replaced with new ones.”

Watch Olga’s video about the transition towards 100% renewable energy.

Pioneers of science, we salute you

We hear much about the world’s problems, but less about the people who continue to solve them. Here are just some stories about both legendary and unsung scientific heroes that have inspired us.