Australian researchers seek cheaper, better and easier to dispose solar panels

Australian researchers seek cheaper, better and easier to dispose solar panels

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End-of-life issues for solar panels set to be focus of research projects sharing in $15 million of ARENA grant funding.

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Better performing solar panels and solving questions about what to do when they reach the end of their useful life is set to be the focus of Australian university research projects sharing in more than $15 million in grant funding.

The research projects, across six Australian universities, will share in $15.14 million in grant funding provided by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and are aimed at boosting solar panel efficiency, reducing cost and help address issues faced when solar panels reach end-of-life.

The 16 research projects will work to identify improvements in advanced silicon manufacturing, to boost the cost-effectiveness of solar panel technologies already in the mass market, and progressing innovation in ‘tandem’ solar cell designs, which utilise multiple solar conversion technologies in a single solar panel.

Researchers will also receive funding to develop new solar panel materials, to help cut the cost of solar panels, or allow for solar panels to be deployed in new applications, as well as improving the design of solar panels to ensure they are easier to manage when they have reached the end of their operational life.

“We’re very pleased with the level of interest which is reflected in the great variety of projects across the priority areas, particularly in the Advanced Silicon field where Australia leads the world,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said.

“A key part of the funding round was finding a solution to the end-of-life of solar panels and we’re excited to see some interesting new research into this area. It’s an important part in our transition to renewable energy as we need to ensure that materials used in solar panels can be recycled or repurposed for future use.”

The research institutions sharing the funding include the Australian National University, Macquarie University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and Swinburne University.

University of Sydney professor Professor Anita Ho-Baillie was awarded a $2.5 million grant under the funding allocation, which will be used to improve the efficiency and durability of silicon-perovskite photovoltaic cell technologies.

“Perovskite solar cells are really hitting their stride now,” Professor Ho-Baillie said. “Apart from being cheap and easy to produce, these solar cells can be combined with the incumbent silicon technology to boost efficiency. Now we want to make sure these cells are able to last a long time to make our technology truly cost effective.”

“We will also use the funding to support our new approach where we stack two layers of perovskite cells on top of a silicon cell to get as much energy out of the sun as possible.”

Research led by Professor Ho-Baillie recently achieved a key durability milestone for silicon-perovskite, which could unlock a new generation of low cost solar cells.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will share in $7 million in grant funding provided by ARENA. One of Australia’s leading solar PV researchers, scientia professor Martin Green, will lead UNSW’s research into reducing the operating temperature of solar panel, which leads to a degradation in solar panel performance.

Two projects at UNSW, sharing in more than $2.9 million in funding, will investigate the end-of-life challenges facing solar panels, including the identification of suitable recyclable materials and how a closed-loop approach can be developed for solar panel technologies.

“Our talented researchers continue to lead in this area,” UNSW’s professor Fisk said. “As global demand for renewable energy ramps up, the efforts of UNSW engineers will have a major impact on the nation’s R&D capability over the whole lifecycle of solar PV.”

ARENA said that it had selected the 16 research projects from a pool of more than 150 applications for research funding and that the projects would engage around 50 researchers in full-time positions.

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