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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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AI to Transform Solar Cell Production

  • The study utilized machine learning and explainable artificial intelligence to analyze the photoluminescence of thin perovskite layers during the manufacturing process, revealing hidden signs of coating quality.
  • This AI-assisted approach marks a paradigm shift in materials science, providing systematic insights that allow for targeted improvements in solar cell production.
  • The successful application of AI in solar cell manufacturing not only improves the efficiency of perovskite solar cells but also serves as a blueprint for future research in energy and materials science.

Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) researchers and of two Helmholtz platforms – Helmholtz Imaging at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Helmholtz AI -have succeeded in finding a way to predict the quality of the perovskite layers and consequently that of the resulting solar cells when assisted by machine learning. The new methods in artificial intelligence (AI), make it possible to assess their quality from variations in light emission during the manufacturing process.

The report discussing the work has been published in Advanced Materials.

Tandem solar cells based on perovskite semiconductors convert sunlight to electricity more efficiently than conventional silicon solar cells. In order to make this technology ready for the market, further improvements with regard to stability and manufacturing processes are required.

For example perovskite tandem solar cells combine a perovskite solar cell with a conventional solar cell based on silicon. These cells are considered a next-generation technology: They boast an efficiency currently to more than 33 percent, which is much higher than that of conventional silicon solar cells. Moreover, they use inexpensive raw materials and are easily manufactured.

To achieve this level of efficiency, an extremely thin high-grade perovskite layer, whose thickness is only a fraction of that of human hair, has to be produced.

Tenure-track professor Ulrich W. Paetzold who conducts research at the Institute of Microstructure Technology and the Light Technology Institute of KIT said, “Manufacturing these high-grade, multi-crystalline thin layers without any deficiencies or holes using low-cost and scalable methods is one of the biggest challenges.”

Even under apparently perfect lab conditions, there may be unknown factors that cause variations in semiconductor layer quality: “This drawback eventually prevents a quick start of industrial-scale production of these highly efficient solar cells, which are needed so badly for the energy turnaround,” explained Paetzold.

AI Finds Hidden Signs of Effective Coating

 To find the factors that influence coating, an interdisciplinary team consisting of the perovskite solar cell experts of KIT has joined forces with specialists for Machine Learning and Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) of Helmholtz Imaging and Helmholtz AI at the DKFZ in Heidelberg.

The researchers developed AI methods that train and analyze neural networks using a huge dataset. This dataset includes video recordings that show the photoluminescence of the thin perovskite layers during the manufacturing process.

Photoluminescence refers to the radiant emission of the semiconductor layers that have been excited by an external light source.

Lukas Klein and Sebastian Ziegler from Helmholtz Imaging at the DKFZ explained, “Since even experts could not see anything particular on the thin layers, the idea was born to train an AI system for Machine Learning (Deep Learning) to detect hidden signs of good or poor coating from the millions of data items on the videos.”

To filter and analyze the widely scattered indications output by the Deep Learning AI system, the researchers subsequently relied on methods of Explainable Artificial Intelligence.

A Blueprint for Follow-Up Research

The researchers found out experimentally that the photoluminescence varies during production and that this phenomenon has an influence on the coating quality.

“Key to our work was the targeted use of XAI methods to see which factors have to be changed to obtain a high-grade solar cell,” Klein and Ziegler said. This is not the usual approach. In most cases, XAI is only used as a kind of guardrail to avoid mistakes when building AI models. “This is a change of paradigm: Gaining highly relevant insights in materials science in such a systematic way is a totally new experience.”

It was indeed the conclusion drawn from the photoluminescence variation that enabled the researchers to take the next step. After the neural networks had been trained accordingly, the AI was able to predict whether each solar cell would achieve a low or a high level of efficiency based on which variation of light emission occurred at what point in the manufacturing process.

“These are extremely exciting results,” emphasized Ulrich W. Paetzold. “Thanks to the combined use of AI, we have a solid clue and know which parameters need to be changed in the first place to improve production. Now we are able to conduct our experiments in a more targeted way and are no longer forced to look blindfolded for the needle in a haystack. This is a blueprint for follow-up research that also applies to many other aspects of energy research and materials science.”

***

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While this research was in the solar energy field one can be sure that other manufacturing fields will be looking into how AI can be used to improve production, processes, quality, competitiveness, and profitability.

Its the social engineering fields that has thoughtful folks intensely suspicious about where AI is going to go. There are already calls for “regulation” by bureaucrats some think to be experts in a field where there are not any real experienced experts just yet.

There are sure to be some good things come from AI. There is also a very real possibility there will be things more terrible possible than anyone has imagined and maybe even engaged by people with evil thoughts in their minds.

Time will tell – That’s a certainty.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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