Innovation That Matters

Startup SunDrive creates lower cost, higher efficiency and more abundant solar cells. | Photo source Unsplash

Copper breakthrough could make solar energy more sustainable and economical

Agriculture & Energy

An Australian startup has developed a way to make solar panel production more efficient by replacing silver with copper

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Spotted:  Sydney-based solar technology startup SunDrive Solar has made a breakthrough in the materials used in solar panels that could significantly increase their efficiency and make them more economical. 

Solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight and create an electric current. These individual cells are fused with metal contacts, which work to extract the electrical current. Traditionally, silver has been the metal of choice for solar panel contacts because it is easy to work with and very stable. In fact, solar panel production consumes one-fifth of the world’s industrial silver each year. But this dependence can be quite costly, especially when silver prices rise.

SunDrive aims to accelerate solar cell development in Australia and according to a leading independent testing laboratory, has successfully produced one of the most efficient solar cells of all time. By replacing silver with the cheaper and more accessible metal, copper, SunDrive’s solar cells provide a lower cost and more material-abundant solar cell.

If SunDrive can scale the production of their technology, it could be a breakthrough for the solar industry to reduce its reliance on silver and as a result, become cheaper and more efficient.

The reason why copper has not been used by solar panel manufacturers before is that copper doesn’t adhere well to solar cells. It also oxidizes more easily, decreasing its ability to conduct current. After hundreds of experiments, Allen eventually developed technology that makes it possible to securely adhere thin lines of copper on solar cells.  

So far, SunDrive has raised roughly €4.46 million from Blackbird Ventures and other big-name investors, and an additional €1.19 million via a grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to support green technology.  After proving high performance on one cell, the next step for SunDrive will be to show that it can mass-produce solar cells efficiently and economically.

Other solar-powered innovations recently spotted at Springwise include a startup diverting solar investment to regions that need it most and floating solar panels helping an airport to produce more energy than it consumes.

Written By: Katrina Lane

Explore more: Sustainability



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