Researchers Convert Algae into Functional Perovskites with Tunable Properties

New perovskites use unique biomaterials derived from single-celled organisms


Researchers at the Dresden University of Technology have transformed single-cell algae into functional perovskite materials by converting mineral shells into lead halide perovskites with tunable physical properties.

The new perovskites have unique nano-architectures and crystal properties from algae, taking advantage of years of evolution of the single-celled organisms.

The method developed by the team can be scaled up, opening up the possibility for the industry to take advantage of algae and numerous other calcite-forming single-celled organisms to produce functional materials with unique shapes and crystallographic properties.

Perovskites are materials that are increasingly popular for a wide range of applications because of their electrical, optical, and photonic properties.

The team of researchers identified that the properties of perovskites could be tuned for specific applications by changing their chemical composition and internal architecture, including the distribution and orientation of their crystal structure.

Taking Advantage of the Evolution

Unicellular organisms have responded over hundreds of millions of years to a wide range of environmental factors such as temperature, pH, and mechanical stress.

The researchers said, as a result, some of them evolved to produce unique biomaterials that are exclusive to nature.

In fact, minerals formed by living organisms often exhibit structural and crystallographic characteristics which are far beyond the production capacities offered by current synthetic methods.

The team focused on L. granifera — a type of algae that uses calcite to form shells.

Their spherical shells have a unique crystal architecture which is aligned radially in a manner that they spread out from the center of the sphere outwards.

“The current manufacturing methods of perovskites are not able to produce materials like this synthetically. We can, however, try to transform the existing natural structures into functional materials while keeping their original architecture,” said research group leader Igor Zlotnikov.

To transform the natural mineral shells of algae into functional perovskites, the team had to substitute chemical elements in calcite.

They adopted a method developed by their collaborators at the AMOLF institute in Amsterdam.

During the transformation, researchers were able to produce different types of crystal architectures by altering the chemical makeup of the material and, in turn, fine-tuning their electro-optical properties.

By converting the calcite shells to lead halides with either iodine, bromide, or chloride, the team could create functional perovskites that are optimized to emit only red, green, or blue light.

“We show for the first time that minerals produced by single-cell organisms can be transformed into technologically relevant functional materials. Instead of competing with nature, we can take advantage of the years of evolutionary adaptation they already went through,” said Zlotnikov.

Recently, an international team of researchers developed a new technique to enhance the durability of inverted perovskite solar cells, which can be an essential step toward commercializing emerging photovoltaic technology and significantly reducing the cost.

In January, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin said they had produced PSCs to achieve efficiencies of well above 24%, which are resistant to drop under rapid temperature fluctuations between -60 and +80 degrees Celsius over one hundred cycles.