April 24, 2024

New Solar Panels Can Heal Themselves from Damage in Space : ScienceAlert

Newly developed solar panels can heal themselves and repair themselves when damaged by space radiation. This result promises to make power sources for satellites and spacecraft more resilient and reliable in the future.

A type of solar panel called a perovskite solar cells (PSC) has a lot of potential for use in space before: It is lightweight and relatively affordable to make, and it converts solar radiation into electricity at a high level of efficiency.

However, it also has the high energy barrage of it proton particles in space. The researchers behind the new study, from the University of Sydney and the Accelerator Science Center in Australia, think they have found a solution.

Prototype solar cells developed by the researchers. (University of Sydney)

“Space hardware will be exposed to proton radiation on these orbits,” write the researchers in their published paper. “Therefore, it is of interest to evaluate the radiation stability of PSCs.”

In laboratory conditions designed to simulate the effects of proton radiation over decades or even centuries, the researchers tested ultrathin solar cell substrates suitable for use in satellites, the first time materials with these properties have been tested in this way.

​​​​The experiments found that the hole transport material (HTM) in the PSC was critical to how much damage it could take and how well it could heal. The HTM facilitates the movement of the holes (lacking an electron(c) in solar cells, which will enable them to remain separated and produce electricity.

Two distinct types of HTM and one type of dopant (a modified substance applied to HTMs) was shown to be better at resisting proton radiation damage. Carefully configured, the HTM can enable the panels to self-heal all the way back up to 100 percent of their efficiency.

This medicine is made by a process of breath, or put heat into a vacuum, which could be powered by the Sun. In theory, solar radiation could repair these solar cells as well as power them.

A lot more research will be needed to make that work, but this study shows that it’s possible – that one day we could have spacecraft powered by solar panels that can repair themselves. Considering the high costs of going to space, that could make a big difference.

“We hope that the insights generated by this work will aid future efforts to develop lightweight, low-cost solar cells for future space applications,” say nanoscientist Anita Ho-Baillie from the University of Sydney.

The research is published in High Energy Materials.

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