Polish startup works on powering smartphones with hair-thick foil

Saule Technologies, a high-tech startup devising solar cells based on perovskite materials, wants to make powering an electric car or a smartphone with solar energy a reality, “Rzeczpospolita” daily wrote on Monday.

Perovskite technology is a new and dynamically developing area in photovoltaics. "The innovative material is a mineral that can absorb light extremely efficiently, offers energy efficiency comparable to silicon panels, but is cheaper and simpler to produce," Rzeczpospolita wrote.

What lies on the horizon is not just the satisfaction of local consumers of the cutting-edge technology but the breakthrough that the Wrocław-based startup run by Piotr Krych, Olga Milinkiewicz and Artur Kupczunas intends to make in the energy sector.

Although perovskites have an energy conversion efficiency of 18-22 percent, which is similar to silicon, it is their property of ultra-thinness that gives them the upper hand. "Photovoltaic foil is the thickness of a human hair, transparent and flexible, and can be used in many products," Saule Technologies’ Piotr Krych told Rzeczpospolita.

The company’s story began with Olga Malinkiewicz’s PhD studies at the University of Valencia, Spain, where she invented a unique method to produce solar cells by coating perovskites on flexible foils. She has received multiple awards for the invention and garnered media attention.

According to Rzeczpospolita, Saule Technologies was established in 2014 when there was not much attention paid to green energy. However, having received an investment from a well-known Japanese entrepreneur and investor Mr Hideo Sawada represented by Huis Ten Bosch Co. Ltd. the startup stepped up its game.

Today the company is developing robustly, with scientists from all around the world working at its labs. It is collaborating, or has collaborated, with companies such as Ergis and Skanska. “Saul Technologies is at the top of the companies seeking to commercialise the [perovskite] technology,” Mr Krych told Rzeczpospolita.

The solar race

But will Saul Technologies’ products keep up to speed within the race for increased perovskite solar cell efficiency? Since the first significant discoveries made in 2009, the efficiency threshold has been crossed multiple times, first with researchers from Korea University of Science and Technology (KRICT) and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) achieving the highest certified record for a single-junction perovskite solar cell with 22.1 percent.

In 2018, a new record was set by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences with a certified efficiency of 23.3 percent, only to be surpassed the same year in June with Oxford Photovoltaics 1 cm² perovskite-silicon tandem solar cell achieving a 27.3 percent conversion efficiency, certified by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE.

Apart from staying in the race, there is also the general issue that plagues the perovskite solar cell (PSC) industry, which is the question of whether it can scale fast enough to meet the UN’s 2050 zero-emissions targets.

As Solar Power World reported, “to meet 20 percent of all global energy for the UN’s emissions reduction scenario, the solar industry would need to install 300 to 500 GW annually [linear example] over the next 30 years. Current global PV module manufacturing at 100 GW per year presents an enormous supply chain challenge. The silicon module industry’s large capital intensity issues limits solar supply to 5 percent of all global energy. It’s a common misunderstanding that silicon modules’ low margins are principally because they are highly commoditized products. The capital intensity is preventing large and durable margins, contributing to supply chain scale-up financing challenges.”