SunDrive gets funding to manufacture new breed of solar cells in Australia

Next generation high efficiency solar cell technology spun out of the University of New South Wales is a step closer to being manufactured in Australia at scale after being awarded a $3 million ARENA grant.

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding for NSW start-up SunDrive Solar was announced on Monday, in support of its $9 million bid to produce a commercial-size PV module for use on household rooftops.

The company, which will move from Wollongong to Kirrawee in South Sydney to scale its operations, is also developing a small-scale automated production line prototype, with the eventual aim to produce the technology in Australia.

SunDrive’s technology replaces the growing use of silver in solar cells – a key barrier to the broader adoption of next generation technologies – with copper, which is significantly cheaper and more readily sourced.

The technology was originally developed by SunDrive CEO Vince Allen during his PhD at UNSW. Allen went on to found SunDrive in 2015 with his flatmate from his undergraduate studies David Hu.

The SunDrive Solar team – which will expand to include an additional 10 staff with the ARENA funding – is also aiming to further improve production efficiencies with a simpler manufacturing process and a thinner solar cell that requires less silicon to produce.

“With this project we have an opportunity in Australia to lead the world in creating the best version of next generation solar cells,” said Allen.

“Our goal is to use the learnings from this project to bring to life a superior solar technology, creating new local industries which can compete on the global stage.

“With only 3 per cent of world electricity coming from solar today, there is still so much innovation that must occur. Gaining the support from the Australian government puts us in a stronger position to capitalise on the opportunity that lies ahead.”

SunDrive initially aims focus its R&D efforts on Australia’s already booming rooftop solar sector, where space is at a premium and higher efficiency cells promise to generate more electricity from a smaller footprint.

Over time, SunDrive expects the technology to become more cost effective than current solar cell technologies and, eventually, to be adopted for large-scale solar.

“As we continue to transition our energy system, the solar industry needs to continually evolve and adopt new cell structures that increase efficiencies, reduce costs and employ more abundant materials,” said ARENA chief Darren Miller.

“It’s fantastic to see an Australian solar startup at the forefront of producing the next generation of high efficiency solar cells.

“Through technological innovations from startups like SunDrive, Australia will remain at the forefront of solar innovation and research and development for years to come,” Miller said.


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