Science

Sustainable solar cell leans on copper to claim world-record efficiency

Although many promising contenders are rising, crystalline silicon cells dominate the solar business and account for round 95 % of all installations. These cells use treasured silver to conduct electrical energy, however Australian outfit SunDrive is growing another that makes use of extra sustainable copper as a substitute. The workforce’s newest spherical of testing has proven not simply how the extra plentiful metallic can function a dependable placement, however that it could push the technology into new terrain, reaching a world-record efficiency for commercially-sized silicon solar cells of 25.54 %.

SunDrive is a startup that in 2015 took on the problem of changing silver in commercially viable silicon solar cells with copper, as a method of enhancing the long-term outlook of the technology. As the world shifts towards renewable types of power within the coming a long time, there will probably be rising demand for essentially the most environment friendly solar cells on provide, and hitching our wagon to costly and more and more scarce silver might create one thing of a bottleneck.

As a uncooked materials, copper is round 100 occasions cheaper than silver and much more plentiful. After getting its begin in a Sydney storage as a part of a PhD project with the University of New South Wales, the SunDrive workforce lastly fabricated a silicon solar cell primarily based on copper fairly than silver in 2019 that grew to become essentially the most environment friendly industrial-sized solar cell ever produced in Australia.

Then final year, the startup received authorities funding to scale this technology down from an industrial-sized cell to a business module that may be fitted to rooftops. These newest cells not too long ago underwent testing on the Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin in Germany, which awarded the workforce certification for the brand new world-record efficiency earlier this month.

“Lots of people, together with myself, have spent a few years making an attempt to exhibit that copper is an economically viable and sustainable various to silver,” says Alison Lennon, a professor at the University of New South Wales and SunDrive advisor. “We’ve never been totally able to convince the industry, but that’s what Sundrive have done with this world record. I think this could be a real game-changer for the industry. There will be a lot of interest in how it has been achieved.”

The workforce’s 25.54 % topples the earlier efficiency document for a commercial-sized silicon solar cell of 25.26 % held by Chinese company Longi. Other silicon solar cells have pushed out past this in laboratory settings, however reaching such efficiency in a commercially-sized cell, utilizing copper instead of silver no much less, is a notable step ahead for the business.

“In order to limit global warning, we will need to install terawatts of solar panels,” says Lennon. “This will require a lot of metal. Silver is a limited resource and as it becomes more and more scarce, its price will go up so the cost of producing solar modules will rise as well. Mining silver from lower quality ores also produces more emissions, making the problem worse. Copper is much more available as a resource, it’s cheaper and it’s also easier to recycle. The metal from copper-plated solar modules will be easier to recover from old modules and therefore may be more easily recycled in the future. This helps enormously from a sustainability perspective.”

Sources: SunDrive, University of New South Wales

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