Perovskites are light-gathering materials used as semiconductors in solar panels. While highly efficient – called "wonder materials" by the solar power industry – they also contain lead, which is toxic to humans and especially dangerous to children.
Other semiconductors use the equally toxic arsenic or cadmium. Still others use lithium and indium, which are rare and difficult to manufacture.
A replacement material needs to be just as effective at converting sunlight into electrical energy. Furthermore, it must use elements that are commonly found on Earth and inexpensive to produce. Finally, the new semiconductor must not be toxic to humans or contaminate the environment.
Javier Vela led the efforts of an Iowa State University (Iowa State) developmental laboratory to find such a substitute material. Vela is an associate professor of chemistry who also works for the Ames Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).