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UNSW team re-imagines the solar car – now with 4 wheels!

As dozens of different teams from around the world prepare for the next 2013 World Solar Challenge, they are being tested by a new requirement – the solar car must have four wheels and a passenger. The challenge is evolving from the space-age concept car to the practical.

UNSW’s team, which set a world record with the fastest solar powered vehicle, a top speed of 88 km/hour, in 2011, is now looking for funds to help the development of its latest design. Here is a statement issued on Monday:

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 10.46.03 AMThe future of solar-powered vehicles in Australia is being re-imagined by a group of talented UNSW students determined to transform a once ‘alien’ design into a more “human friendly” car.

“We want to go beyond the spaceship type cars we’ve built in the past and create the sort of car you could drive anywhere, all while keeping the design cool and producing zero emissions,” says UNSW engineering student Sam Paterson.

Paterson is the project manager for Sunswift, the UNSW solar racing team run by undergraduate business and engineering students.

The team is currently building a next-generation vehicle for the 2013 World Solar Challenge – an epic 3,000 km race from Darwin to Adelaide. The focus is on delivering a more “human friendly” car and the team has launched a crowd funding campaign to help bring it to life.

In 2011, UNSW Sunswift set a world record with its fourth generation car, which became the fastest solar powered vehicle, reaching a top speed of 88 km/hour. This was the team’s second world record since forming in 1996.

But this year the team is competing in a new class – the cruiser class – where the objective is not speed but practicality. Vehicles must have four wheels instead of three, and must accommodate both a driver and a passenger.

“The ultimate goal is to design and build a car that can meet the requirements for road registration in Australia,” says Paterson. “We’re extremely confident in our latest design, and excited for the race in October.”

“We have tried a new fundraising method with this car and are hopeful we can reach our target. We are also incredibly grateful for all the support and encouragement we’ve already received,” says Paterson.

The team is more than halfway to its fundraising target of $20,000. The final day of the campaign is Thursday 27 June. For more information on Sunswift’s fifth generation car, known as eVe, visit the campaign profile:


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UNSW solar discovery sets new silicon efficiency benchmark

The solar industry has long been focused on bringing down the cost of silicon, but have been stuck on how to do this without creating compromising its quality and thus reducing panel efficiency?

Now, a team of Australian solar engineers from the UNSW say they have found a way to dramatically improve the quality of low-grade silicon, that would both reduce the cost of solar panels and boost their efficiency.

The new technique, patented by UNSW researchers earlier this year, is expected to produce efficiencies between 21-23 per cent, up from the current maximum of around 19 per cent for standard commercial silicon cells.

The key is in the discovery of a mechanism to control hydrogen atoms so they can better correct deficiencies in silicon – by far the most expensive component used in the manufacture of solar cells.

The use of hydrogen atoms to help correct defects in the atomic structure of silicon is not a new concept, but until now, scientists have had limited success in controlling the hydrogen to maximise its benefits – or even in understanding why this happens.

“Our research team at UNSW has worked out how to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms in silicon,” said Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham from the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW. “This process will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better-quality materials.”

“By using lower-quality silicon to achieve higher efficiencies, we can enable significant cost reductions,” Wenham said.

“We have seen a 10,000 times improvement in the mobility of the hydrogen and can control the hydrogen so it chemically bonds to things like defects and contaminants, making these inactive.”

The UNSW team currently has eight industry partners interested in commercialising the technology, and is also working with manufacturing equipment companies to implement the new capabilities.

The project, which has been generously supported by the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is expected to be completed in 2016.

UNSW still holds the world-record for silicon cell efficiency at 25 per cent, and last week, Scientia Professor and solar pioneer Martin Green, was elected into the Fellowship of the United Kingdom’s prestigious Royal Society.

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World’s leading solar firms join forces with UNSW

Two competing companies – Suntech Power and Hanwha Solar — have joined forces with the University of New South Wales in Australia under the banner of a collaborative research agreement to better understand a new processing technology being pioneers by the university whereby tiny metal contact regions can be “self-patterned” into a solar cell’s electric insulator.

“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 the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE).

“Other methods, such as aerosol and ink-jet printing, have been explored, however currently these methods are currently too slow and have not been able to demonstrate the required patterning reliability.”

Lennon and her PhD students are investigating a new approach to automate and speed up the patterning using aluminium anodisation, an already well-understood process by which a chemical coating is formed on a metal surface to protect against corrosion.

“When you anodise aluminium you can create a porous insulating layer,” says Lennon. “This means we can effectively turn an aluminium layer on a silicon solar cell into a dielectric layer with lots of little holes, which is exactly what we want.”

Using this technique, the UNSW team have made prototypes, and they are now working on understanding how the metal contacts form so that they can improve the efficiency of each cell, and how to refine the technique so it can work on a larger, competitive industrial scale.

“We need to make the process robust, with predictable high efficiencies for manufacturers, and we need to make it cost-effective,” says Lennon.

Lennon, who helped broker the collaborative research agreement, says this is an example of two companies realising they can achieve more as partners than as competitors, and says their support could open the door for faster commercialisation.

“Both Hanwha and Suntech operate high-volume solar manufacturing plants, and both are within the top 10 silicon solar cell manufacturers in the world. So if we can demonstrate the viability of this technology, we are both in a position to move the technology into manufacture relatively quickly,” noted Dr Paul Basore and Dr Renate Egan, the Advanced R&D Directors for Hanwha Solar and Suntech Power, respectively.


This article was first published on Cleantechnica. Published with permission.

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UNSW says Australia could be Silicon Valley of solar R&D

Australia has the opportunity of creating a mini “Silicon Valley” for solar research, but only if it can seize the moment, according to Dr Richard Corkish, the head of the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW.

Corkish says Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on its expertise in slar PV. “We have global leadership in the silicon solar cells. We don’t have many areas where we can claim that, but we won’t have this opportunity for ever.

Corkish was speaking after UNSW won a 2012 Collaborative Innovation Award at the Cooperative Research Centres Association conference in Adelaide for its work on the Pluto solar cell technology.

The development of Pluto has been led by Professors Stuart Wenham and Martin Green at UNSW in close collaboration with Suntech, the world’s largest solar cell manufacturer, which is headed by a former UNSW researcher, and Australian citizen, Dr Zhengrong Shi. Funding has been provided by the Australian Solar Institute.

The Pluto technology is based on the UNSW-developed PERL cell, which in 2008 set the world-record for performance with 25 per cent efficiency. It recently set a new world record for conversion efficiency for commercial wafers, of 20.3 per cent, which RenewEconomy reported in a world exclusive in March Suntech sets solar cell efficiency record.

The Pluto cell, which features a unique texturing process that improves sunlight absorption, even in conditions of low and indirect light, resulting in higher efficiency, is more economically viable to produce on a large scale.

“We recently broke through the 20 per cent target for solar cell efficiency, which many experts thought was impossible and we’ve significantly lowered the costs compared to other technologies,” says Professor Green.

“While many photovoltaic researchers around the world are focused on the holy grail of higher and higher efficiencies, we believe Pluto technology has struck the ideal balance between conversion efficiency and manufacturing costs to create a truly viable alternative for electricity production.”

Wenham said that as the Pluto technology is refined and the conversion efficiency further increased, “we have no doubt that it will capture an increasing share of the global solar market.”

Corkish, who spoke to RenewEconomy on Wednesday from Shanghai, said the global market for solar PV was massive and would grow phenomenally in coming years.

“I am at a conference in Shanghai and each time I come here I am blown away about how much bigger it was than the year before,” he said. “There is a lot of big money in solar PV and other places want to grab that opportunity. I fear that we are going to let it slip.

“The utcome I’d like to see is bunch of world scale solar PV manufacturers gathered about us in Sydney. We not going to have mega (solar PV manufacturing) factories in Australia but why on earth wouldn’t we have the research centres. We can be a little silicon valley in an area of huge potential.”

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