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Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, Professor David McKenzie, Dr Jianghui Zheng and Dr Arafat Mahmud
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University of Sydney wins millions to commercialise solar cells

4 January 2023

Perovskite-silicon cells can dwarf current solar panel efficiency 

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie is joining forces with Sydney-based renewable technology company SunDrive to commercialise perovskite-silicon cells - a significantly more advanced solar technology than present options on the market.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has awarded $2.78 million in research funding to Professor Ho-Baillie, the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience in the University of Sydney’s School of Physics, Sydney Nano and Sydney Nano Hub.

Other investigators on the project include Professor David McKenzie, Dr Jianghui Zheng and Dr Arafat Mahmud, who are based at the University of Sydney, and Mr Vince Allen, Mr David Hu and Professor Alison Lennon from SunDrive.

The funding forms a vital part of a multi-million-dollar national injection to support research and development that accelerates commercialisation.  

Round one of ARENA’s Transformative Research Accelerating Commercialisation Program, which began in February and came to a close in August, had a total of $40 million to distribute to support ultra-low cost solar photovoltaic (PV) research and development.

With the financial backing of the Australian Government, the research project led by Professor Ho-Baillie, in collaboration with SunDrive, will improve the commercial viability of perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells.

 

A solar cell from Professor Ho-Baillie's lab

Solar cells convert solar energy into electricity using semiconductors. While silicon is the semiconductor material being used in the current solar technology, perovskites have emerged as a promising alternative candidate. Perovskites are crystal structures made from mineral compounds, and the metal halide version is particularly useful for solar-cell applications. The efficiencies of perovskite solar cells are approaching those of silicon solar cells.

This project will focus on stacking perovskite on top of silicon to form a tandem solar cell, rather than using silicon on its own.

“The idea of this stacking is to convert more energy from the sun to electrical power,” said Professor Ho-Baillie. “The efficiency that can be achieved by a perovskite-silicon tandem in a laboratory is now over 30 percent, while the highest efficiency for a silicon cell on its own is just below 27 percent in the laboratory and around 23 percent commercially.

“There isn’t much room for silicon to improve because its theoretical limit is only 30 percent – but for perovskite-silicon tandem, it is 40 percent.”

The cell design is the “future” of solar technology, according to Professor Ho-Baillie, but there are a few steps to tackle before reaching that endpoint.

“To make them the main commercial option, we need to improve the durability of these cells – especially under the combination of thermal and light stress,” said Professor Ho-Baillie. “We also need to develop industry-relevant manufacturing processes that are cost-effective.

“Lastly, we need to develop technologies of encapsulating and packaging the tandem cells to larger solar panels. These panels, not just the cells themselves, also have to be durable and highly efficient.”

 

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie with a solar cell

Professor Anita Ho-Baillie with a solar cell

Professor Mark Scott, the University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor and President, said: “This funding aligns with the University’s mission of supporting world-leading research, working with industries, to address global challenges, such as providing sustainable energy generation solutions captured in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Emma Johnston said: “We are proud of Professor Ho-Baillie’s achievement securing ARENA and industry partner support for such cutting-edge solar research.”

The research will build on Professor Ho-Baillie’s impressive list of achievements. She has been a Clarivate Highly Cited Researcher since 2019 and was an Australian Museum Eureka Prize Finalist in 2021.

In 2020, she and her research team made progress towards commercialisation by proving perovskite solar cells can pass strict heat and humidity standards set by the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Professor Ho-Baillie also leads the University of Sydney’s node of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP), which recently had its operations extended with $45 million in funding from ARENA to conducting cutting edge solar PV research to 2030.

SunDrive is an Australian solar technology company founded in 2015 to commercialise its proprietary low-cost metallisation technology for silicon solar cells.

The company has been successful in progressing from lab-scale proof-of-concept to commercial, full-size solar panel fabrication, and has raised $21 million in its latest Series A funding round drawing support from Main Sequence Ventures, Virescent Ventures, Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Canva co-founder Cameron Adams.

SunDrive is one of the only two companies in the world which has demonstrated full-area commercial-size cells with a certified efficiency above 26 percent.

“It’s exciting that ARENA is supporting this project with the goal of accelerating the development of more progressive solar technologies such as perovskite silicon tandems,” said Vincent Allen, co-founder and chief executive of SunDrive. “We very much look forward to working with Professor Ho-Baillie and her team.”

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the funding will go to some of Australia’s leading universities and researchers in solar PV that have helped to make Australia world leaders in solar innovation.

“Australia’s solar researchers have helped to make solar PV the cheapest form of energy in history, but to create a future in which Australian solar energy supplies the world with clean power, fuels and products, we need to be ambitious and drive the cost of solar even lower,” Mr Miller said.

“ARENA is supporting these universities with $41.5 million in funding to get behind the target of ‘Solar 30 30 30’ to deliver ultra low cost solar, helping to optimise Australia’s transition to renewable electricity and achieve our emissions reduction targets.”

Philip Ritchie

Media and PR Adviser (Science)

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