SunDrive is a solar technology company based in South Sydney, Australia. The company was founded by UNSW graduates Vince Allen and David Hu in 2015 to accelerate solar cell development in Australia. It has grown from a small PhD project in a garage to producing some of the most efficient solar cells ever made in Australia. 

SunDrive is creating unique solutions to reduce the cost of high efficiency solar cells, whilst enhancing their performance and sustainability by utilising more abundant materials. 

‚Äć
The mission is to provide clean energy that can sustain humanity's progression in the modern age whilst preserving the natural world.

SunDrive are developing solar cells that are:

  • More efficient - Leads to fewer solar panels needed, reducing installation costs.
  • Free of precious metals - Today‚Äôs solar cells contain precious metals which are both expensive and scarce.
  • Less material intensive - Saves on material costs - achieved by reducing the solar cell thickness.
  • Less prone to degradation - Solar cells degrade with time and temperature - its important to minimise this.
  • Less energy intensive to produce - Saves on manufacturing costs and reduces environmental impact.

Read more at ARENA:

Customer Focus

While the company is pre-product and pre-revenue they have set their sights on the finished solar cell and could become a major source to the solar cell supply chain that results in finished solar panels. 

Challenges

The key to this business is process innovation and the time and ingenuity it takes to perfect applying support to solar panels is the barrier to entry and potentially the unique value proposition. There are established players in the solar cell manufacturing supply chain that may or may not be able to crack the same code. Of course these players would likely try to acquire SunDrive along the way to get access to the process technology they are developing.

‚ÄćHighlights

In 2019, SunDrive successfully fabricated such a solar cell using copper instead of silver and in doing so made the most efficient industrial-size solar cell ever created in Australia. A proud moment for the team, given Australia’s rich heritage in advancing solar cell technology - today’s commercial solar cells were invented in Australia 30 years ago. $5M Series A funding from Blackbird Ventures and Mike Cannon Brookes’ Grok Ventures. $3M grant and commercialisation project with ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency).

Report Card

  • Impact - Making solar cells with copper ensures an abundant supply of a key major raw material in their production and opens the market to its full growth potential while further reducing the cost of a kWh of energy produced.¬†
  • Team - Founded in 2015 by university roommates David Hu and Vince Allen, SunDrive is working towards commercialising technology Allen developed through his PhD in solar power, ultimately building what Hu says will be the most efficient solar cells ever made in Australia.
  • Product - Solar cells made using copper instead of silver.
  • Market - With only 3% of current energy production provided by solar while the cost of generating a kWh using solar now less than using fossil fuels, the market for solar panels is primed for massive growth. However, the solar industry consumes almost 20% of all silver produced, thus availability of silver will limit the maximum potential of the solar panel market. Copper is 100 times more abundant than silver.¬†
  • Momentum - Product won‚Äôt be ready until 2024 or beyond as SunDrive works to perfect their processes at the scale required to build PV cell production lines.
  • Capital - $5M Series A from Blackbird Ventures and Mike Cannon Brookes‚Äô Grok Ventures + $3M grant funding from the ARENA.

From The Founders

‚ÄćCompany: SunDrive
Themes: Powering, Energy, Reduce emissions, Remove emissions, Improve the environment
Summary: Unlocking low-cost, high-efficiency solar using copper.
Country: Australia
Founders: Vince Allen, Dave Hu
Product stage: Prototype
URL: www.sundrivesolar.com‚Äć

Capital raising:

  • 2015 seed: $600k
  • 2018 pre-Series A: $1.6m
  • 2020 Series A: $8m (includes $3m ARENA grant)

Company Mission:
Our goal is to accelerate the mass proliferation of solar energy worldwide. 
 
Today only 3% of the world's electricity comes from solar PV. If the world is to continue its rapid increase in Solar PV generation, there are fundamental challenges facing the solar industry:

  • The use of precious metals (in particular, silver) in solar manufacturing is limiting solar PV growth to TW scale. Solar cell manufacturing already accounts for 20% of the world‚Äôs industrial silver consumption. As manufacturing capacity is expected to grow x5 before 2030, an alternative metal will be required.
  • Efficiency improvements for current commercial solar cell technologies have been exhausted. Increasing the conversion efficiency of sunlight to electrical power is the most effective means to reduce total Solar PV system cost. However, current commercial technology is nearing its efficiency limits and more efficient next generation ‚Äėpassivated contact‚Äô technologies (currently pursued by many of today‚Äôs largest manufacturers) require 2- 3 times more silver. For these next generation solar cells, silver accounts for up to half of the wafer to cell processing cost.
  • SunDrive is developing a solar cell technology that uses copper instead of silver. Copper is 1000x more abundant and 100x cheaper per kg than silver. SunDrive has shown it can not only replace silver with copper, thereby reducing material costs, but it can also achieve solar cell efficiencies beyond levels attainable using silver.

‚ÄćWhy the team wants to solve this problem:
Our sense of purpose comes from a desire to contribute to the solution. If the world does not transition fast enough to renewable energy, then we all know what comes next. Our sense of motivation also comes from the fact that we are a solar company run by young people - it will be our generation that will have to see this through.

From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem trivial that replacing silver with copper would lead to a marginal improvement in cost and efficiency. However, if this can be realised, this would represent one of the greatest advancements in the development of solar technology. Solar cell performance and cost are fundamental driving factors behind the continued adoption of Solar PV and with current technology at its limits, switching from silver to copper offers an avenue for improvement in virtually every aspect of solar cell performance and cost.

‚ÄćWhat are other climate tech companies you admire:
Tesla - They are redefining an entire industry and they have been able to show that with advanced technology and high automation, large-scale capital-intensive manufacturing can be achieved in some of the most expensive real-estate locations in the world (Fremont California).

Photo by Edouard Dognin on Unsplash

Posted 
Aug 12, 2021
 in 
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