This Startup Aims to Reduce Solar Cell Cost by Replacing Silver with Copper

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced a $3 million funding to Australian startup SunDrive to advance the commercial development of its low cost, a high-efficiency solar manufacturing process in Australia.

The $9 million project will also see their technology scaled from an industrial-sized cell to a commercial size module that could be used on household rooftops. A small-scale automated production line prototype will also be developed with the eventual aim to produce the technology in Australia.

Rooftop solar installations in Australia have been growing. The country has installed 2,530,881 rooftop solar systems totaling 11.94 GW in cumulative capacity, as on August 31, 2020.

A significant issue when it comes to the broader adoption of next-generation solar cell technologies is the use of silver. Across the world, solar manufacturing consumes 20% of the world’s total annual industrial silver consumption. As solar demand grows, the industry would move to higher efficiency next-generation solar cell structures, which require two to three times more silver per cell.

However, SunDrive replaces silver with copper, which is significantly cheaper and more abundant. According to ARENA, SunDrive aims to further improve efficiency with a simpler manufacturing process and a thinner solar cell that will require less silicon to produce.

The company’s CEO, Vince Allen, developed the technology during his Ph.D. at the University of New South Wales Sydney, before founding SunDrive in 2015.

SunDrive aims to focus the technology on the rooftop solar sector, where space is at a premium, and higher efficiency cells can produce significant amounts of energy. The technology is expected to become more cost-effective than current solar cell technologies and can be adapted for large-scale solar projects.

Interestingly, ARENA recently received a funding package worth $1.62 billion from the government to enhance the utilization of low emission technologies to cut emissions across the chain. The Australian government is expected to invest $18 billion through new investments in low emission technologies over the next ten years to reduce carbon emissions. Australia wants to drive in at least $50 billion of overall new investment over the next decade.

Image credit: By AleSpa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0