RoboMapper: A robot that identifies new perovskite materials with solar cell efficiency

The robot will also help reduce cost and energy overheads.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image


Researchers from North Carolina State University have created a robot called RoboMapper, capable of performing material testing more efficiently while reducing cost and energy overhead. 

The material identified using RoboMapper was also efficient at converting light into electricity in solar cell devices.

10 times faster than previous automated techniques

There are multiple steps like placing, aligning, and calibrating involved in testing materials samples using different instruments. It’s a time and electricity-consuming process. The robot helps in reducing these steps.

Previous efforts to automate this process have relied heavily on automating the process with one sample per chip moving through the entire data collection process, explained a press release. This improves speed, but each of the steps still has to be done with one sample at a time.

“RoboMapper also automates this process, but places dozens of samples on each chip by miniaturizing the material samples with the help of modern printing,” said Aram Amassian, co-author of a paper and a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State.

“It still performs each step of the data collection process, but it does so for multiple materials in parallel, saving time and energy.”

Boosting solar energy research

The researchers focused on perovskite materials, which are better at absorbing light than silicon. This means that solar cells made from perovskite materials will be thinner and lighter than silicon solar cells without sacrificing the cell’s ability to convert light into electricity.

“Basically, the challenge is that perovskite materials tend to degrade when exposed to light, losing the properties that made them desirable in the first place,” Amassian says. “We’re looking for ways to engineer these materials so that they are stable – meaning they retain their desirable properties for a long time, even when exposed to light.”

Next-gen solar technologies

RoboMapper was asked to make 150 different types of alloys using a defined set of elements. The tests were designed to identify whether the alloy was suitable for solar cells.

This experimental data was then used to construct a computational model, said the press release, which helped researchers identify a specific alloy composition that the robot predicted would have the best combination of desired attributes.

“One reason RoboMapper’s experiments were able to produce such useful data is that the specific suite of experiments we used is based on previous work that informs our understanding of the relationship between what we can observe in optical tests and the stability of perovskite materials,” said Amassian.

The researchers’ previous work involves the discovery of channeling ions into defined pathways in perovskite materials. They found this improves the stability and operational performance of perovskite solar cells. The researchers believe this paves the way for a new generation of lighter, more flexible, and more efficient solar cell technologies suitable for practical use.

“Next steps for this work include expanding the range of potential alloys for testing in RoboMapper,” Amassian says. “We’re open to working with industry partners to identify new materials for photovoltaics or other applications. And with support from the Office of Naval Research, we are already using RoboMapper to advance our understanding of materials for both organic solar cells and printed electronics.”