SunDrive, the Sydney-based start-up working to replace expensive silver elements in solar cells with cheaper copper, has attracted the support of some of Australia’s most prominent renewable energy venture investors to help scale its low-cost, high-efficiency solar cell and manufacturing process.
The $21 million Series A funding round was led by the CSIRO’s venture capital outfit Main Sequence Ventures and the federally funded Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), with the latter confirming it had invested $7 million through its innovation fund managed by Virescent Ventures.
The raise also includes existing investors Blackbird Ventures and software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures while former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Canva co-founder Cameron Adams also participated in the latest round.
SunDrive’s patented technology uses copper as the conductive material to pull the electrical current from the PV cells, instead of the industry standard silver. The technology has already produced solar efficiency world records, further expanding its commercial potential.
SunDrive’s use of cheaper more abundant copper instead of expensive silver shapes as a potential game-changer in the push to produce more efficient and scalable solar technology.
Worldwide, the solar PV industry consumes approximately 10% of the world’s silver and the manufacture of solar panels is estimated to account for 20% of total industrial demand.
“People in the scientific community have realised for a very long time that silver is unsustainable,” SunDrive co-founder Vince Allen said.
“The solar cells needed to decarbonize the world will need to be more efficient, cheaper and scalable than they are today. The use of silver is the common denominator and is holding back the rapid advancements needed to transition to a solar-powered electric world.”
Virescent Ventures managing partner Ben Gust said at nearly 100 times cheaper than silver and far more abundant, the switch to copper has the potential to improve solar panel uptake by driving down costs.
“Increasing panel efficiency and shifting to more abundant materials before constraints on silver and other materials limit industry growth is critical to improving the uptake of solar PV in Australia and around the world,” he said. “SunDrive’s technology has the potential to be the leading method for silver replacement in solar PV production.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that solar PV generation capacity will more than double by the end of the decade, from approximately 739 GW in 2020, to up to 2,550 GW in 2030.
CEFC chief executive Ian Learmonth said SunDrive’s technology has the capacity to not only revolutionise the production of PV cells but also play a key role in the development of a domestic solar manufacturing industry.
“The technology has the potential to revolutionise the onshore production of solar cells and the development of an Australian solar manufacturing industry,” he said, adding “improving sovereign manufacturing capability will increase Australia’s resilience to supply chain disruptions and further enable the uptake of solar PV.”
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