Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grants

Evaluating the agrivoltaic potential of emerging perovskite-based solar cells for greenhouse applications

Evaluating the agrivoltaic potential of emerging perovskite-based solar cells for greenhouse applications

semi-transparent solar panels could provide important benefits in agriculture

Today’s photovoltaic market is dominated by solar cells based on crystalline silicon. They are very efficient at absorbing sunlight and converting it to electricity, however, to achieve this, they need to be thick and opaque. This limits their applications and requires rooftop or ground based, large area footprint installations. Advancing semi-transparent photovoltaic technologies, which are still in their infancy, has the potential to revolutionize the solar energy market and become a vast source for clean electricity. Power-generating windows, using alternative absorbers (e.g. quantum dots), are slowly emerging on the commercial market, but their optical and mechanical properties, as well as cost, hinder widespread adoption. Thin-film organic solar cells (OSCs) and organic-inorganic hybrid perovskite solar cells (PSCs) have great potential for next-generation semi-transparent solar panels, because of their mechanical durability and flexibility, tunable transmission, high energy conversion efficiency, and low-cost production.
One area where such flexible and semi-transparent solar panels could provide important benefits is in agriculture, where they could be deployed at times with high solar radiation, protecting crops from excessive heat and light. They are especially promising in greenhouses, where they could replace traditional shade curtains, allowing for generation of electricity, while providing the required cooling in the greenhouse. The panels therefore serve as dual purpose technology.
The team will evaluate novel perovskite-based materials, as compared to current technologies, for their potential as solar panels in conjunction with their capabilities to reduce grid energy requirements for greenhouses. Specifically, a series of organic-inorganic hybrid perovskite thin films will be fabricated with varying thickness and chemical composition. These will be evaluated with standard UV-VIS spectroscopy for their spectral absorption characteristics and overall transmittance as well as time-resolved spectroscopy to understand charge and energy transfer processes that govern solar cell efficiency and are critical feedback to guide optical bandgap engineering. Thin films with favorable characteristics for greenhouse applications will be tested for their solar conversion efficiency in a calibrated solar irradiation simulator. Large panels of the best thin films will be manufactured to measure potential effects of the altered light spectrum and intensity on plant physiology and growth. Furthermore, the greenhouse energy balance and potential for electricity generation for the typical weather patterns in different areas of the US will be modeled. Future technologies could also incorporate nanorods that favorably impact thermal performance of the greenhouse.

Team Lead

Susanne Ullrich
Physics and Astronomy

Team Members

Tho Nguyen
Physics and Astronomy

Marc van Iersel
Department of Horticulture

Maric Boudreau
Department of Management Information Systems

Richard Watson
Department of Management Information Systems

Tom Lawrence
School of Environmental, Civil, Agricultural, and Mechanical Engineering