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Buried contact solar cell
high-efficiency photovoltaic cell

Professor Martin Green and his team of researchers at the University of NSW are world leaders in designing solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. They aim to make solar cells as efficient as possible and at an affordable price - so more people will use them.

The team has developed a silicon solar cell with tiny, laser-etched grooves in which the wires (contacts) that carry the electric current are buried. This leaves a greater surface area to catch the sun's rays and has led to a record 24.7% efficiency for an experimental cell (and 20% efficiency for cells made commercially). Their buried-contact solar cells powered the car that won the 1990 Solar Challenge car race from Darwin to Adelaide.

In 1994 they prototyped cells made from cheaper, lower quality thin films of silicon that are still 16% efficient. Cells like these could begin to replace traditional ways of generating electricity on a large scale. In 1995 Pacific Solar was formed between Pacific Power and Unisearch (UNSW?s technology commercialisation arm) to commercially manufacture these cheaper solar cells. Pilot production of the cells began in 1998 and by the end of the century plans were underway to fully commercialise the technology.

UNSW buried contact solar cells are being manufactured under licence in Spain and Switzerland. In 1999 Martin Green and Stuart Wenham won the Australia Prize for excellence in the field of energy science and technology.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
University of New South Wales : R&D

Unisearch Ltd : patenting & licensing

BP Solar : initial manufacture
Key People
Martin Green : research team leader
Stuart Wenham : researcher
Michael Willison : researcher

Further Reading
Making it: innovation and success in Australia's industries
R Renew
Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 1993, pp 88-89.

Centre for Photovoltaic Engineering UNSW
Unisearch Pty Ltd
BP Solar
Pacific Solar
Sustainable Energy Development Authority
1999 Australia Prize
How solar cells work

Questions & Activities
Buried contact solar cell

A cross section of the solar cell. The rough surface catches more sunlight than a smooth surface. Courtesy Centre for Photovoltaic Devices and Systems UNSW
This enlarged cross section shows the buried contact. It?s a strip of copper imbedded in the silicon of the cell. Courtesy Centre for Photovoltaic Devices and Systems UNSW.
The buried contact is formed using a laser to make a groove in the cell?s surface and then filling it with copper. Courtesy Centre for Photovoltaic Devices and Systems UNSW.
The surface is made even more efficient by treating the surface to form light?trapping pyramids. Courtesy Centre for Photovoltaic Devices and Systems UNSW.
Stuart Wenham talks about the solar cell development.
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Stuart Wenham talks about the solar cell development.Transcript

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