A small tech company from Wollongong, Australia, has developed the most efficient commercial-size solar cell ever made in Australia without relying on expensive precious metals, but the next step is more ambitious.
The global solar industry is in full swing trying to eliminate its significant dependence on the use of precious metals from its manufacturing chain.
Today, about 15% of the world’s industrial silver consumption goes to the manufacture of solar cells.
If the industry is to grow on a large scale – which is projected to happen – this presents a great challenge.
Vince Allen, CEO of Sundrive
Sundrive is working to replace silver with copper in the manufacture of solar cells.
Copper is 1,000 times more abundant and 100 times cheaper per kilo than silver.
Manufacture solar panels. Image: Humphery Shutterstock
It presents its own challenges, and those challenges are at the core of what we are tackling. There is a great consensus in the scientific community that copper is probably the most suitable alternative [to silver].
At the end of last year, the team used copper instead of silver to make the most efficient commercial-size solar cell ever made in Australia.
Efficiency is measured by the amount of energy that can be removed, relative to the amount of sunlight that enters.
Mr. Allen said that the main problem with using copper in a silicon wafer was that it did not stick well enough to the surface of the solar cell and that current methods were not reliable.
Now that the team has solved that problem, they are increasing production, so those cells can be installed on Australian rooftops.
And this work is being done in such a discreet location, the only thing on the outside of your building’s wall is a street number.