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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Scaling up novel Australian solar cell technology


Scientist in a solar cell laboratory Photo: SunDrive Solar
SunDrive has developed a solar cell metallisation technology that uses copper, a metal that is said to be approximately 100 times cheaper and 1,000 times more abundant than commonly used silver

Photo: SunDrive Solar

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is to invest A$11mn ($7mn) in SunDrive Solar to expand the Australian company’s novel solar cell metallisation technology from prototype scale (1.5 MW/y) to commercial capacity (>100 MW/y).

SunDrive has developed a solar cell metallisation technology that uses copper, a metal that is said to be approximately 100 times cheaper and 1,000 times more abundant than commonly used silver.


Currently, silver accounts for approximately half the cost of converting a bare silicon wafer into a finished solar cell, and solar manufacturing accounts for approximately 25% of the world’s annual industrial silver consumption. The use of copper could help the world to rapidly scale up solar manufacturing and support meeting net zero commitments, according to ARENA and SunDrive.


‘To make ultra low-cost solar a reality, it is crucial that our scientists and researchers keep innovating and improving solar cells and module design,’ comments ARENA CEO Darren Miller. ‘SunDrive’s technology that replaces silver with copper is a potential game changer.’


In addition to being more cost-effective and material abundant, the new cell metallisation technology has allowed SunDrive to create what it claims is the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell. The technology also has environmental benefits as copper is easier to recycle and is less carbon intensive in the manufacturing process.


By combining these benefits, SunDrive says it is aiming to produce one of the world’s most advanced solar modules at an installed price that is 20–30% cheaper than other high efficiency solar modules currently on the market.


The company plans to accelerate the development of its copper-plated solar PV technology to commercial-scale production capacity of >100+ MW/y of metallised cells. It has previously received A$3mn ($1.95mn) in ARENA funding to demonstrate the copper metallisation technology to the prototype scale of 1.5 MW/y.


SunDrive Co-founder and CEO, Vince Allen, comments: ‘To achieve net zero by 2050, we are going to need more advanced solar technologies. Today only 1% of the world’s energy comes from solar and current technology is already at its limit in terms of cost efficiency and material scalability, and the use of silver is behind all three of these. With SunDrive’s breakthrough copper technology, these roadblocks can be overcome, unlocking a new generation of solar technology.’


Enabling ultra low-cost solar 
While solar PV and wind are recognised as the lowest cost form of generation in Australia today, further cost reductions are required to optimise Australia’s transition to renewable electricity and to enable future industries such as renewable hydrogen and low emissions metals, according to ARENA.


The Agency recently released a white paper on the potential of ultra low-cost solar for Australia and the world. At the forefront of the white paper is ARENA’s ‘30-30-30’ vision for ultra low-cost solar in Australia, which represents 30% solar module efficiency and an installed cost of 30 cents per Watt by 2030.