The iconic image of the entrepreneur coming out of a garage can be applied to Vince Allen, who has been researching solar panels for about seven years. An engineering graduate of UNSW Sydney, he founded the SunDrive Solar company in 2015. And over time they have become a proper name within the powerful solar panel industry, thanks to its copper-based solar cell technology, instead of the usual silver.
SunDrive has raised $ 7.5 million in funding, including from Mike Cannon-Brookes, one of Australia’s wealthiest investors, and Shi Zhengrong, Suntech president. Also $ 2 million via the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Despite still being a small startup, this past September they achieved the milestone of producing the most efficient commercial solar cell on the market: a world record of 25.54% efficiency.
Solar cells based on copper, instead of silver
The startup managed to set the efficiency record at 25.54%, after tests with the German Research Institute for Solar Energy in Hamelin, beating the previous record of 25.26% set by Chinese solar giant Longi. Although, as the months go by, new tests and there is already talk of having reached 26.30%.
Australian technology making history!🇦🇺☀️
SunDrive has officially set a new world record for a commercial size silicon solar cell.
A proud milestone for the team that worked incredibly hard to achieve this. Stay tuned for what’s next… pic.twitter.com/xf9NtqqZ7I
— SunDrive (@sundrivesolar) September 9, 2021
The use of copper instead of silver has important consequences. As explained Bloomberg, the solar panel industry consumes approximately 20% of silver reserves each year. And this metal already represents 15% of the final price of the solar cell. Copper is a much cheaper material, although it has also become more expensive. If a ton of copper is trading at about $ 9,000 in London, that same amount of silver costs about $ 770,000.
The great challenge of using copper is that it does not have the same resistance as silver when it is implemented in solar cells. Copper also oxidizes faster than silver, which affects conductivity.
Vince Allen has focused his work on liquid copper and from his garage, together with David Hu, Co-Founder of SunDrive, began to develop this copper technology for solar cells. The result is solar cells with higher efficiency and lower manufacturing cost.
In September they showed that they had obtained greater efficiency and SunDrive engineers have built the world’s first full-size solar panel this week, demonstrating that its technology is ready to be commercialized in the future.
The SunDrive team wants to keep growing and are looking for new mechanical engineers. The company continues to work on its pilot project and until the first half of 2023 they do not expect to have their solar panels available.
Despite being still a young startup, its promising results and its commitment to copper are attracting the attention of the major players in the sector
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