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Solar panel breakthrough SunDrive partners with Sydney University on a $2.78 million research project

A University of Sydney professor developing advanced solar technology has received $2.78 million in research funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to commercialize the idea in a partnership with Sydney startup SunDrive.

Professor Ho-Baillie, the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at the University’s School of Physics and Sydney Nano Hub, is joining forces with Sydney-based SunDrive to commercialize advanced solar technology using perovskite silicon cells.

The research project led by Prof. Ho-Baillie, in collaboration with SunDrive, will improve the commercial viability of perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells.

While silicon is the semiconductor material currently in use, perovskites – crystal structures made from mineral compounds – have emerged as a promising alternative, with the efficiency of perovskite solar cells already approaching the silicon version

This project will focus on stacking perovskite on top of silicon to form a tandem solar cell, rather than just using silicon.

Ho-Baillie said the idea of ​​this stacking is to convert more of the sun’s energy into electrical energy.

“The efficiency that can be achieved by a perovskite-silicon tandem in a lab is now over 30%, while the highest efficiency for a silicon cell alone is just under 27% in the lab and around 23% commercially,” said she. .

“There’s not much room for silicon to improve because the theoretical limit is only 30% — but for perovskite-silicon tandem, it’s 40%.”

The cell design is the “future” of solar technology, Ho-Baillie said, but more work on the concept is needed.

“To make them the main commercial option, we needed to improve the durability of these cells, especially under the combination of thermal and light stress,” she said.

“We also need to develop industry-relevant production processes that are cost-effective.

“Finally, we need to develop technologies for encapsulating and packaging the tandem cells into larger solar panels. These panels, not just the cells themselves, must also be durable and highly efficient.”

Other researchers on the project include Professor David McKenzie, Dr Jianghui Zheng and Dr Arafat Mahmud, from the University of Sydney, and SunDrive co-founders Vince Allen and David Hu and Prof Alison Lennon.

Professor Ho-Baillie also leads the node of the University of Sydney’s Australian Center for Advanced Photovoltaics, whose operations have recently expanded with $45 million in funding from ARENA for solar PV research through to 2030.

Founded in 2015, SunDrive raised $21 million in a Series B last October. The company was co-founded by unimates Vince Allen and David Hu after Allen developed the idea of ​​using copper as a cheaper alternative to silver in solar panels on roofs.

The new cells can be up to 30% cheaper than the current panels. The solar PV industry already uses about 10% of the world’s silver and 20% of total industrial demand. Copper is nearly 100 times cheaper than silver and much more abundant.

SunDrive backers include CSIRO’s VC fund Main Sequence Ventures, the federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, Blackbird, Canva founder Cameron Adams, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Tesla chairman Robyn Denholm.

The company has succeeded in moving from a lab-scale proof-of-concept to full-scale commercial production of solar panels and is one of only two companies in the world to have demonstrated commercial-sized cells with certified efficiency. above 26%.

Allen, SunDrive’s CEO, said they look forward to working with Professor Ho-Baillie and her team.

“It is exciting that ARENA is supporting this project with the goal of accelerating the development of more advanced solar technologies such as perovskite-silicon tandems,” he said.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the funding will go to leading universities and solar PV researchers.

“Australian solar researchers have helped make solar PV the cheapest form of energy in history, but to create a future where Australian solar power supplies the world with clean power, fuels and products we need to be ambitious and increase the cost of solar energy.” even lower,” he said.

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