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Copper - Red Hot Metal

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    The article below was published in the AFR today and is a great example why copper is so important to the decarbonisation trend happening throughout the entire world. The decarbonisation trend is pushing up demand for copper and over the next 10 -20 years there is a forecast supply deficit.

    The article below highlights the improving cost efficiency and solar conversion efficiency achieved by SunDrive a NSW based solar cell pioneer.

    SunDrive technology is based on replacing silver in solar cells with copper. Not only does in make the solar panels cheaper but also more efficient.

    Based on 2019 worldwide production of solar cells and replacing the silver with copper an additional 12,000 tonnes of copper would be needed. That is more than 50% of the copper produced at Tritton.

    The production of solar cells for new installations is growing faster each year and very soon old solar cells will start to be replaced. And while this increased use of copper is happening the surge in EV production will take copper demand to a new level.

    This is a great time to be a copper prodcer.

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    SunDrive snares solar record ahead of funding round

    Angela Macdonald-SmithSenior resources writer
    Sep 13, 2021 – 5.00am

    A home-grown solar start-up backed by tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has snatched the coveted world record for solar cell efficiency in a well-timed coup ahead of its next funding round to support the scale-up of its innovative technology.
    The world-beating achievement of SunDrive, which was founded in a garage in Wollongong six years ago by two university friends, comes as the outfit has expanded its advisory board to include Tesla chairman Robyn Denholm in a further move to underpin its push towards manufacturing of its cells.

    SunDrive’s David Hu, left, and Vince Allen founded the start-up in a garage in Wollongong.
    Co-founder Vince Allen said SunDrive’s success in securing the record amid competition from global solar players underscored the opportunity for Australia to position itself in advanced manufacturing in a sector that will only continue to boom.
    With top scientists and executives in the field, abundant solar resources, record rooftop solar penetration and a line-up of mega renewables projects, Australia had all the ingredients to make it happen, he said.
    “Solar only supplies 1 per cent of all the world’s energy needs, and with predictions that solar will be the dominant energy source in the coming decades, we still have a very long way to go,” Mr Allen told The Australian Financial Review.

    “Having invented today’s technology, which is now fast approaching its limits, Australia is in pole position to capitalise on the opportunity that lies ahead.”
    The record pulled off by SunDrive’s team of scientists and engineers, based in Sydney’s south, involves a conversion efficiency rate of light to electricity of 25.54 per cent for a commercial-size cell. It overtakes the previous record of 25.26 per cent held by Chinese giant LONGi, bringing the record back to Australian shores for the first time in years and edging closer to the theoretical efficiency limit for a silicon solar cell of about 29 per cent.

    Mr Allen said the significance of the record was two-fold, in that the enhanced efficiency comes using solar cells that contain no silver, instead using copper for the same purpose. Recent records for efficiency have relied on increasing the use of silver, which raises costs.
    “It’s really cost and efficiency that drives solar adoption, and this record is addressing both of those things,” he said.
    “SunDrive expects to bring to market the most efficient solar technology available worldwide at a price point which is 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than today’s most efficient commercially available technology.”
    Ms Denholm, who is also an operating partner of SunDrive backer Blackbird Ventures, said the record was significant and that she looked forward to playing a small part in the journey ahead.
    “By changing the fundamentals of solar cell technology, this small highly focused team based in the Sutherland shire has set a new benchmark for the world’s largest solar manufacturers to chase,” she said. “This is another testament to Australia’s opportunity to lead in the new energy era.”

    SunDrive is working on scaling up its technology to have a demonstration module using its cells ready by the end of the year that can then be put through extensive performance tests.
    It focuses on the last, highest-value step in the solar cell production chain, involving adding the copper on top of the cell that extracts the electricity from the solar cell when light falls on it, and making the modules.
    “For us as a company, we don’t want to be competing in that very heavily commoditised section of the upstream manufacturing value chain, we just want to focus on the last 25 per cent, which is also the most critical when it comes to cost and efficiency of the final panel,” Mr Allen said.

    SunDrive is at the same time designing and building a pilot production line for its copper process, with completion targeted by the end of 2022. That 20-megawatt a year capacity plant would be followed by a scale-up to full commercial production of perhaps as much as 1 GW a year, depending on domestic demand.

    The first full-size commercial modules should be ready in the first half of 2023, in time to be considered for some of the country’s massive renewable energy export project proposals, including by Sun Cable, the Australasian Renewable Energy Hub and projects by Fortescue Metals Group, all of which bode well for future demand for solar PV in Australia.
    A Series B funding round planned for late 2021-early 2022 is expected to bring in new investors alongside those such as Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures and renowned solar scientist and industry pioneer Zhengrong Shi, the founder of Suntech and SunDrive’s first external investor in 2015. Dr Shi, Mr Allen and Mr Hu are all alumni of UNSW.
    SunDrive has also applied for funding under the federal government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative. Its Series A funding round of $8 million last year included a $3 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to take the copper electrochemical solar cell technology towards commercialisation, as well as investment from Blackbird and Grok.
 
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