A startup making cheaper rooftop solar panels by replacing the silver in production with copper has raised $21 million in a Series B.
SunDrive began life in a Wollongong garage in 2015, cofounded by uni mates Vince Allen and David Hu. Allen developed the idea of using copper as a cheaper alternative during two years of studying for a PhD, which he scrapped to launch SunDrive.
The new cells could be up to 30% cheaper than current panels. The solar PV industry already uses around 10% of the world’s silver, and 20% of total industrial demand. Copper is nearly 100 times cheaper than silver and far more abundant.
The raise was led by the CSIRO’s VC fund Main Sequence Ventures, with the federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation chipping in $7 million through its Innovation Fund, managed by Virescent Ventures.. Existing backers and Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes once again invested through his family VC, Grok, along with Blackbird Ventures, while Canva founder Cameron Adams, former PM Malcolm Turnbull and Tesla chair Robyn Denholm made first time bets on the tech.
Denholm joined SunDrive’s advisory board last year.
Blackbird originally backed SunDrive’s seed round in 2018, and founding partner Niki Scevak joined the startup’s board in 2020 following a $5 million Series A.
Government-owned Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has also tipped $3 million into the venture two years ago.
Last year SunDrive set a new world record for solar efficiency, taking the title from the Chinese.
CEO Vince Allen said that in order to decarbonise, solar cells need to be more efficient, cheaper and scalable than they are currently.
“The use of silver is the common denominator and is holding back the rapid advancements needed to transition to a solar powered electric world,” he said.
“Australia has arguably made the greatest scientific contribution to the development of solar technology, having invented the technology behind 90% of all solar panels made worldwide. SunDrive is thrilled to now be working with Australia’s top deep tech and cleantech investors in developing next generational solar technologies.”
Virescent Ventures managing partner Ben Gust said SunDrive’s technology has the potential to be the leading method for silver replacement in solar PV production.
“Increasing panel efficiency and shifting to more abundant materials before constraints on silver and other materials limit industry growth is critical to improving the uptake of solar PV in Australia and around the world,” he said.