Tin is most noted for its use as a coating or as part of a wide array of alloys.
In the Bronze Age, bronze was often formed as an alloy of copper and tin to make, among other things, various tools and weapons.
Fast forward to the modern day — tin cans are probably the first thing one thinks of when they hear the world “tin.” Tin cans are actually fashioned out of steel and coated with tin, which offers corrosion resistance.
However, a British firm is deploying tin for another, far more cosmic purpose: harvesting energy from our sun.
According to the International Tin Association, the British firm Oxford PV plans to bring to market a tin-using, perovskite-based solar cell by the end of next year. Perovskite is a mineral made up mostly of calcium titanate, contrasting with the silicon used in traditional photovoltaic cells. In previous iterations, lead had been used; now, the hope is tin can be a safer, more efficient element in the photovoltaic cell.
“ITA has been tracking R&D developments in tin-containing perovskite solar technology for some years now and is amongst a set of next-generation renewable energy technologies that will be positive for tin demand,” the ITA said in a release.
Oxford PV was established in 2010, based on research pioneered by Henry Snaith at Oxford University.
“Our perovskite solar cell technology will allow silicon solar cell and module manufacturers to break through their performance barrier,” Oxford PV says on its website. “Significantly improving the performance of silicon photovoltaics, will allow cost reductions, that transform the economics and accelerate the growth of solar energy generation globally.”
Why are perovskite-based solar cells attractive? According to the ITA, they are “cheaper, more efficient and easier to produce than standard solar panels.” However, the cells do carry durability concerns.
Similarly, in 2014 a team of Northwestern University scientists published research in the journal Nature Photonics on lead-free solid-state organic–inorganic halide perovskite solar cells. In the team’s abstract, it wrote that the “reported CH3NH3SnI3–xBrx perovskite solar cells represent a step towards the realization of low-cost, environmentally friendly solid-state solar cells.”