ARENA puts AU$11 million behind copper-based solar cell technology

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The technology in question replaces the silver traditionally used in solar cell production with copper. Image: Pixabay

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will invest AU$11 million (US$6.9 million) in Australian solar technology company SunDrive Solar to support the commercial scale-up of SunDrive’s novel solar cell metallisation technology.

The technology in question replaces the silver traditionally used in solar cell production with copper, a material that is orders of magnitude cheaper and more abundant than silver. SunDrive and ARENA said that the use of copper in solar metallisation could result in solar module production that is cheaper and more efficient than current standards.

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Currently SunDrive is operating a prototype production line of 1.5MW/year, and the funding will allow it to scale up to 100MW of annual production. In October 2022, SunDrive closed a AU$21 million (US$13.3 million) Series A funding round towards its commercialisation.

“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,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller. “SunDrive’s technology that replaces silver with copper is a potential game changer and highlights why now is the time to invest in technologies for our future economic success.”

Silver use is forecast to become a point of concern for the PV industry, and by 2050 it has been forecast that solar manufacturing will account for up to 98% of the world’s silver reserves if it remains a prominent metal component. Copper is easier to recycle than silver, and less energy intensive.

SunDrive said that its ultimate goal is to produce a module with an installed price that is 20-30%cheaper than other high efficiency solar modules on the market.

SunDrive co-founder and CEO, Vince Allen, said: “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.

“With ARENA’s backing, SunDrive is proud to be at the forefront of Australian solar innovation and demonstrating the immense potential of a domestic advanced solar manufacturing industry to make Australia into a renewable energy manufacturing superpower.”

This week, investment manager Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners acquired a 200-hectare site in Townsville, Australia to establish a polysilicon production facility.

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