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Suntech CTO and UNSW Australia team win UK IET award for silicon solar cell research

Suntech’s chief tech officer Stuart Wenham and his team at University of South Wales Australia awarded IET research prize

Suntech CTO Stuart Wenham said his IET award-winning technology will allow lower-quality silicon to produce higher efficiencies at a lower cost

The chief technology officer (CTO) of Chinese firm Suntech and a research team he leads in Australia have won a prestigious UK technology award for discovering a technique to improve silicon efficiency in solar panel production. Suntech CTO Professor Stuart Wenham, who is Scientia Professor of the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of South Wales (UNSW), Australia, has been awarded the Institution of Engineering and Technology's (IET) AF Harvey Engineering Research Prize for innovation.

The IET, which is based in the UK, is the largest multidisciplinary professional engineering institution in the world. Wenham and his UNSW research team have been awarded the IET AF Harvey Engineering Research Prize for discovering a technique, which has led to developing “advanced hydrogen technology.” This technology can improve efficiency of lower-grade silicon used to produce solar panels.

Wenham said: "The advanced hydrogenation technology, developed collaboratively with Suntech, will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better quality materials, producing higher efficiencies at significantly lower cost.”

The AF Harvey Engineering Research Prize award £300,000 pounds for recognising work into innovation.

Wenham said: "It is a great honour to receive the AF Harvey Engineering Prize and the international recognition that it brings to this important innovation. The prize money will go a long way to helping us take the research to the next stage."

Hydrogenation technology, which Professor Wenham's team has researched, enables the manipulation of hydrogen atoms within a silicon solar cell to eliminate the effect of impurities on the efficiency of the cell. By neutralising impurities within the cell, lower-grade silicon can function, in the same way as more expensive, higher-grade silicon, resulting in an efficiency boost and cost reduction, Suntech said.

Wenham said the Australian Renewable Energy Agency's funding support for the project is expected to be completed in 2016. He now aims to work with solar companies, including Suntech to develop the silicon solar cell technology for commercialisation.

"Our UNSW team is now working with the world's biggest solar manufacturers, like Suntech, through collaborative agreements with NewSouth Innovations to commercialize this low-cost technology," Wenham said.