A small tech company in Wollongong, Australia has developed the most efficient commercial-size solar cell ever made in Australia without relying on expensive precious metals, but the next step is more ambitious.

The global solar industry is booming in an attempt to eliminate its heavy reliance on the use of precious metals from its manufacturing line.

Today, around 15% of the world’s industrial silver consumption is spent on manufacturing solar cells.

If the industry is to develop on a large scale – which is planned to do so – this presents a significant challenge.

Vince Allen, CEO of Sundrive

Sundrive is working to replace silver with copper in the manufacture of solar cells.

Copper is 1,000 times more abundant and 100 times cheaper per kilo than silver.

Manufacture of solar panels. Image: Humphery Shutterstock

It presents its own challenges, and those challenges are at the heart of what we do. There is a large consensus in the scientific community that copper is probably the most suitable alternative. [a la plata].

Late last year, the team used copper instead of silver to make the most efficient commercial-size solar cell ever made in Australia.

Efficiency is measured by the amount of energy that can be withdrawn, relative to the amount of sunlight that enters.

Mr Allen said the main problem with using copper in a silicon wafer is that it does not stick well enough to the surface of the solar cell and current methods are unreliable.

Now that the team has fixed this issue, they are ramping up production, so these cells can be installed on Australian rooftops.

And this work is done in such a discreet place that the only thing outside your building wall is a house number.