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Invented by Japanese scientist Tsutomu Miyasaka, the cells use minerals forming a crystal structure called perovskite, which can be used in a device to turn the sun's rays into electricity.

A key element in manufacturing perovskite is iodine. While hardly a resources powerhouse, Japan happens to be the world's second-largest producer of iodine after Chile, accounting for around a third of global production.

Now, perovskite-only cells have caught up with or even surpassed silicon rivals, with conversion rates as high as 25% or more, U.S. Department of Energy data show. That compares with rates of around 18% to 22% for conventional commercial silicon panels.

The challenge now is making costs competitive with silicon cells and dealing with the humidity issue.


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