About seven years ago, Vince Allen barged into the garage he shared with some flatmates in a Sydney suburb and set about trying to shake up the solar industry. He was at the time a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, and he had an idea for making solar panels much cheaper: replace the expensive silver typically used to pull electricity out of the devices with plentiful, cheap copper.
Labs and well-funded giants had already struggled with this same attempt to ditch silver. Allen remained undeterred and built his own equipment to test one idea after another at a quick clip, until he found a technique that worked. SunDrive Solar, the company he co-founded in 2015 based on this research, proved this week that it has produced one of the most efficient solar cells of all time, according to a leading independent testing laboratory. And SunDrive did so with copper as the metal at the core.