KTU invention at Expo 2020 in Dubai – solar cell that won Lithuania a world record

In late 2018, a group of chemists from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) synthesized a material that self-assembles into a molecular-thick electrode layer, also called a monolayer, on the surface, which is dipped in a solution. This material was used by physicists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Institute in Berlin to build a solar cell that transforms 29.15% of accidental light into energy. In 2020, this world record efficiency value was officially certified by the CalLab of the Fraunhofer Institute for solar energy systems.

“Although the 2020 World Expo is aimed more at the general public, it is very likely that participation in the exhibition will increase the attention to our research group and, at the same time, to the university. The record performance of the silicon-perovskite tandem solar cell exhibited in the Lithuanian pavilion, which used materials created by KTU, demonstrates that environmentally friendly technologies developed in our country can change the world,” said KTU Professor Vytautas Getautis, Director of the research team behind the invention.

The silicon-perovskite tandem solar cells designed by German physicists – one of the layers of which is made of organic materials synthesized by KTU – use cheap and easily recyclable raw materials.
“For our research group, international recognition is very important, as it is for the university and Lithuania – we can feel the results. This year, after publication of the invention publication in renowned scientific journals such as “Science” and “Energy & Environmental Science”, we received 6 proposals to participate in international consortia, preparing project applications for the European Horizon program. Regularly, we receive 1 to 2 similar offers,” explains Professor Getautis.

Vytautas Getautis

© KTU archyvo nuotr.

Materials synthesized by KTU chemists are now commercialized and freely available to research groups and companies around the world. Participation in the 2020 World Expo will further increase the visibility of the invention.

Lithuanian invention helps reduce effects of climate change

Solar energy technologies are particularly relevant in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, where the exhibition takes place, and where there are more sunny days than in other regions. According to Mindaugas Bulota, head of KTU’s National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (NIEC), solar technologies help to generate electricity where it is needed, which also helps reduce transportation costs.

“Electricity is used at almost every stage of our lives, so the invention of KTU chemists is universal, with the potential to have a global impact. Efficiency is crucial in the transition to mitigation policies This is exactly what was achieved with this invention of Lithuanian and German scientists – compared to other technologies, less material is needed to produce the same amount of electricity,” says Bulota.

Mindaugas Bulotas

Mindaugas Bulotas

© KTU archyvo nuotr.

The perovskite and silicon tandem solar cell on display at the 2020 World Expo was produced in cooperation between Lithuanian and German scientists – the material, synthesized by KTU chemists, was used to build a working solar cell by physicists from Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB).

The record-breaking tandem solar cell, which converts 29.15% of incident light into electricity, displayed in the Lithuanian pavilion of the 2020 World Expo is an example of a scientific solution that reduces the cost of energy production. Using traditional technologies, from 1 gram of silicone, only a few square centimeters of the solar element can be produced. However, 1 gram of the material synthesized at KTU is enough to cover up to 1000 m2 of surface. In addition, the self-assembled organic material is significantly cheaper than the alternatives currently used in the photovoltaic technology market.

The technology invented by the Lithuanians makes it possible to cover even the rough surfaces of solar cells, such as copper-indium-gallium selenide CIGS and is adaptable to other photovoltaic technologies, such as the production of organic solar cells. The researchers believe that the use of similar self-assembled monolayers could potentially be extended to other applications, including light-emitting diodes, photodetectors or organic transistors.

The intellectual property of the invention is protected by international patents. The licenses to produce the Me-4PACz (for tandems) and Br-2PACz (for organic elements) materials synthesized in the KTU laboratories have been purchased by several global companies.

Opportunity to get acquainted with Lithuanian technological achievements

The overarching theme of this year’s Expo 2020 is Collaborating Minds and Building the Future, which is reflected in the sub-themes of Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity. The Lithuanian pavilion, called “Openarium”, emphasizes the importance of sustainability – made of wood, the pavilion is decorated with traditional ethnographic motifs. The main idea of ​​the Lithuanian exhibition is to portray our country as growing, sustainable and contemporary.

“Participating in the World Expo, which features 192 countries and is expected to be attended by 25 million visitors, is a very joyful and important event. In sporting terms, it could be compared to playing in the Lithuanian national basketball team in the World Championship,” jokes Professor Getautis from KTU.

World Expo 2020 runs until March 31, 2022.

“This exhibition is a great opportunity to introduce the public to the technologies developed by Lithuanian researchers. As this year’s World Expo is taking place in the United Arab Emirates, it is a great way to increase the visibility of KTU and Lithuania in the world, to present Lithuania as a high-tech country. At the same time, of course, we are looking to establish contacts with international companies who would cooperate with the university in the future in the development of this and other technologies,” said Bulota, Director of KTU NIEC.

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