Sustainable solar cell relies on copper to claim record efficiency

Although many promising candidates are emerging, crystalline silicon cells dominate the solar industry and account for around 95% of all installations. These cells use precious silver to conduct electricity, but Australian company SunDrive is developing an alternative that uses more durable copper instead. The team’s latest round of testing has shown not only how the most abundant metal can serve as a reliable investment, but it can push the technology into new ground, achieving record yields for sizable silicon solar cells. commercial value of 25.54%.

SunDrive is a startup that rose to the challenge in 2015 of replacing silver in commercially viable silicon solar cells with copper, in order to improve the long-term prospects of the technology. As the world turns to renewable forms of energy over the next few decades, there will be an increasing demand for the most efficient solar cells on offer, and hitching our wagon to expensive and increasingly scarce money. could create a bottleneck.

As a raw material, copper is about 100 times cheaper than silver and much more abundant. After debuting in a Sydney garage as part of a doctoral project with the University of New South Wales, the SunDrive team finally fabricated a silicon solar cell based on copper rather than d money in 2019 that has become the most efficient industrial-size solar cell ever created. produced in Australia.

Then last year, the startup received government funding to take this technology from an industrial-sized cell to a commercial module that can be installed on rooftops. The latter cells were recently tested at the Hamelin Solar Energy Research Institute in Germany, which awarded the team’s certification for the new world efficiency record earlier this month.

“A lot of people, myself included, have spent many years trying to demonstrate that copper is an economically viable and sustainable alternative to silver,” says Alison Lennon, professor at the University of New Wales from South and SunDrive advisor. “We’ve never been able to fully convince the industry, but that’s what Sundrive did with this world record. I think it could really be a game-changer for the industry. There will be a lot. of interest in how this was achieved. “

The 25.54% of the team surpass the previous efficiency record of a 25.26% commercial-size silicon solar cell owned by the Chinese company Longi. Other silicon solar cells have gone beyond that in the lab, but achieving such performance in a commercial-sized cell, using copper instead of silver, is a notable step forward for the industry. .

“In order to limit the global alert, we will need to install terawatts of solar panels,” says Lennon. “It will require a lot of metal. Silver is a finite resource and as it becomes more and more scarce, its price will therefore increase the cost of producing solar modules will also increase. Lower grade ores also produce more emissions. This compounds the problem. Copper is much more available as a resource, it is cheaper, and it is also easier to recycle. The metal in copper clad solar modules will be easier to recover from old modules and can therefore be more easily recycled in the future. This helps a lot from a sustainability point of view.

Sources: SunDrive, University of New South Wales

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