Australian technology start-up creates world’s most efficient solar cell while replacing silver with copper

Solar start-up engineer Vince Allen knew he and his team had made something special in their laboratories.

Key points:

  • An Australian solar company has created the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell
  • The company uses copper instead of silver to manufacture their solar cells because it is cheaper and more abundant
  • Sundrive chief executive Vince Allen says the certified record puts Australia back at the forefront of solar cell manufacturing

Now they have the certification to say they have created the most efficient commercial-sized solar cell in the world.

In the solar world, efficiency is a big deal.

“The fundamental driving factors behind solar adoption come down to efficiency and cost,” Mr Allen said.

Put simply, efficiency is measured by the amount of power you generate based on the amount of sunlight coming in.

Ten years ago, commercial-sized solar cells had an efficiency rating of about 14 to 16 per cent.

Mr Allen’s company Sundrive has created a cell with 25.54 per cent efficiency, as tested by the Institute For Solar Energy Research Hamlin in Germany – a company that specialises in efficiency testing.

“Prior to that, the record was 25.26 per cent, so we’ve done a reasonably big jump,” he said.

“In the solar world, independent certification is critical if you want to present your results to research institutions.”

The key difference: no silver

Mr Allen and his company’s co-founder David Hu are passionate about pursuing a method of building solar cells that do not use silver.

Currently, 15 per cent of the world’s industrial silver consumption goes into making solar cells.

It is an expensive and finite resource and one Mr Allen has shunned in favour of copper.

“I think what’s more significant than achieving the world record is we’ve been able to do it without silver,” Mr Allen said.

“We’ve effectively broken that trend using copper.”

Copper is 100 times cheaper than silver, there is much more of it and it also requires lower processing temperatures, meaning less energy consumption.

Mr Allen says the practical efficiency limit of a commercial-sized solar cell is about 27 per cent, meaning the technology is getting close to its efficiency limit.

“We see ourselves as having a technology that will help the industry grow to its next stage with more efficient silicon solar cells and we see an opportunity to be at the forefront of the next solar adoption wave,” he said.

When will the cells be roof-ready?

As a small business competing in an industry with technology and manufacturing, it will take some time before Mr Allen’s company is making solar panels ready for installation.

Solar cells need to withstand the Australian climate, come with a warranty and be designed to last about 25 years.

The company recently relocated from Wollongong to a bigger space in southern Sydney.

Mr Allen said it’s a long process to have the technology mass-producible, but that is the goal.

“We’re also focused on building our pilot production line by end of next year with panels ready maybe by the first half of 2023.”


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