University of NSW leading the way in cell efficiency research

University of New South Wales (UNSW) PV engineers have been internationally lauded for groundbreaking research into silicon solar cell efficiency.

Professor Stuart Wenham was awarded the prestigious Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) A F Harvey Engineering Research Prize in January, in recognition of the discovery of a mechanism to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms to correct deficiencies in silicon – the most costly part of a solar cell. The awarded included $560,000 in prize money.

“Our patented advanced hydrogenation technology will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better quality materials, producing higher efficiencies at significantly lower cost,” said the professor, who is part of UNSW’s School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering.

“Our UNSW team is now working with the world’s biggest solar manufacturers through collaborative agreements with NewSouth Innovations to commercialise this low-cost technology.”

Professor Wenham also acknowledged the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s funding support for the project, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

“It is a great honour to receive the A F Harvey Engineering Prize and the international recognition that it brings to this important innovation. The prize money will go a long way to helping us take the research to the next stage,” he said.

A five-year collaborative research agreement has been formed between UNSW and Chinese solar cell producer China Sunergy, for improved developments to solar cell efficiency.

The research aims to combine UNSW’s advanced hydrogenation technology with China Sunergy’s experience in cell process, to enhance the electrical properties of silicon wafers and obtain significantly higher cell efficiencies.

Additionally, UNSW will provide the Chinese company with regular updates on its latest research advancements and, when necessary, provide training and education at UNSW.

The agreement with China Sunergy will be operated through NewSouth Innovations, a wholly owned subsidiary of UNSW.

China Sunergy chief technology officer Dr. Jianhua Zhao said UNSW is a global leader in hydrogenation technology and the company is optimistic the collaboration will bring mutual success for all three parties.

“If this research proves successful, China Sunergy would gain significant competitive advantages and cost savings, as we will be entitled to deploy the resulting technologies throughout our product portfolio,” he said.

UNSW has previously developed a process that employs hydrogen atoms to mask defects in multicrystalline wafers, boosting the electrical properties and providing higher cell conversion efficiencies, as reported by PV Tech.

Lower grade quality wafers could also be used without a negative impact on the material quality of the wafer and typical efficiencies achieved with higher quality wafers.

The university is also joining forces with global solar energy supplier REC to improve a hydrogen passivation process, which was first discovered by UNSW researchers.

Standard multi-crystalline silicon cells currently have a maximum efficiency of around 17.5-18 per cent.

According to Professor Wenham, the new technique is expected to produce efficiencies of between 19-20 per cent once fully developed.