UNSW, Suntech and Hanwha Solar collaborate

Technology being developed at the University of New South Wales to improve the efficiency of silicon solar cells has grabbed the attention of two of the world’s largest solar panel manufacturers.

The School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) has inked a collaborative research agreement with Suntech Power and Hanwha Solar to further develop experimental technology to automate and speed up patterning of solar cell electric insulators.

“Currently closely-spaced small-area metal contact regions in an insulating layer can only be formed by deliberately patterning the holes with a laser scanning over the surface, which is quite slow,” says Dr Alison Lennon, a senior lecturer from SPREE.

Dr Lennon says other methods such as aerosol and ink-jet printing are at this point too slow and have been unable to demonstrate the required patterning reliability.

Dr. Lennon and her PhD students are investigating the use of aluminium anodisation, a process where a chemical coating is formed on a metal surface to protect against corrosion, which she says can turn an aluminium layer on a silicon solar cell into a dielectric layer with many tiny holes; exactly what is needed.

The  team has already constructed prototypes of cells using the process and is now working on improving cell efficiencies and refining the technique to make it commercially viable - and this is where Suntech and Hanwha Solar solar come in.

Dr Lennon says the collaboration is an example of two companies realising they can achieve more as partners than as competitors, which could result in faster commercialisation.

The University of NSW is a global leader in solar technology research and development.

It was announced recently UNSW would be a partner conducting research in connection with two large solar farms projects to be constructed over the next three years in western New South Wales.

UNSW also has a long association with Suntech. Among other achievements, earlier this year collaborative research between the two led to a world record 20.3 per cent efficiency for a production silicon solar cell  through further refinements to Suntech’s Pluto cell technology.

Suntech founder Dr. Zhengrong Shi is a graduate of UNSW.

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