SunDrive lands $11 million to scale ‘breakthrough copper technology’ solar cells to 100+ MW


In September 2021, SunDrive revealed it had achieved a record-breaking power conversion efficiency of 25.54% for a silver-free heterojunction solar cell. The breakthrough led to a long bout of excitement around the company, and saw it attract financial support from some of Australia’s most prominent renewable investors.

Today, the federal government-backed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced a further $11 million for SunDrive to expand its novel solar cell metallisation technology from prototype scale (that is, less than 1.5 MW of annual production) to commercial-scale capacity of more than 100 MW of metallised PV cell production annually. That is enough for around 15,000 household solar systems each year.

Energy minister Chris Bowen at SunDrive’s office in Sydney.

Image: Australian government

Little information on timelines is provided, but SunDrive did say it is aiming to employ around 100 people by the end of the year at their manufacturing facility at Kurnell in Sydney’s south. However, the eventual aim is to grow this to more than 500 staff as production increases in Australia.

Overall, SunDrive’s scale up is expected to cost a total of $33.6 million.

SunDrive’s technology

SunDrive’s chief executive Vince Allen started the company with former flatmate David Hu in 2015 based on a solution developed while completing his PhD at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), adding another chapter to UNSW’s storied solar history.

SunDrive’s breakthrough rests on cell metallisation technology that uses copper instead of silver in solar cells. Copper is approximately 100 times cheaper and 1000 time more abundant than the silver currently being used in solar manufacturing, meaning the technology holds massive promise for pushing down solar prices, improving the environmental impacts of solar manufacturing, and helping to rapidly scale-up manufacturing globally.

“In addition to being more cost-effective and material abundant, SunDrive has also pushed the performance of its technology beyond that achievable with silver by creating the world’s most efficient commercial-sized solar cell,” ARENA noted in its announcement.

“By combining these benefits, SunDrive is aiming to produce one of the world’s most advanced solar modules at an installed price that is 20-30 per cent cheaper than other high efficiency solar modules on the market,” ARENA added.

In October 2022, SunDrive completed a $21 million funding round to help commercialise its technology. It has also previously been awarded a $3 million ARENA grant to demonstrate its copper metallisation technology at the currrent prototype scale of 1.5 MW per year.

In 2021, the company announced it had successfully fabricated its first full-size solar panel.

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