Australia Opens World's First Titanium Solar Cell Factory

CANBERRA, Australia, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - The government of Australia is committed to meeting its international climate change obligations, but is not prepared to sacrifice economic growth and Australian jobs, Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin said Wednesday.

Minchin spoke at the opening of the world's first titania dye solar cell manufacturing operation developed by the company Sustainable Technologies International at Queanbeyan, near Canberra.

The new cell technology has the capacity to provide low cost solar energy supplies to buildings, remote areas and businesses around the world, providing significant environmental benefits.

The opening of the Queanbeyan factory is the culmination of seven years of research and A$12 million expenditure. Sustainable Technologies International has received a A$1 million grant under the Commonwealth government's Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program to construct the facility.

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Sustainable Technologies' titania solar cell (Photo courtesy Sustainable Technologies International)
The factory makes a new type of photovoltaic solar cell based on nanocristaline titanium dioxide as the semiconductor. The titania solar cells use a titanium dioxide semiconductor coated with ruthenium dye, which absorbs light in the visible spectrum. Sustainable Technologies Australia is the sole licensee outside Europe of the patented core technology for dyed titania cells.

Production costs are cheaper compared with the silicon based solar cells that are now most widely used. Titania cells perform under a wide range of temperature and light conditions including low and diffuse light, and they can be optically transparent or opaque.

The basic titania cell consists of a sandwich of titanium dioxide, dye, electrolyte and catalyst between two conductive transparent electrodes. Upon illumination of the cell, light excites the dye, sending an electron on its way to be picked up and transmitted by the semiconducting titania dioxide to become electrical energy.

Each of the layers is screen printed on to the glass and baked on using cost effective standard equipment from the semiconductor industry.

The company claims the production of its cells is less harmful to the environment than the manufacture of silicon cells which emits hazardous gases and requires the use of hazardous gases and a great deal of water and electricity. Titania solar cell manufacture produces no toxic gas emissions, Sustainable Technologies says.

Senator Minchin said the development of this Australian technology is an excellent example of Australian innovation and the success of the government's package of greenhouse response measures.

The greenhouse gas emissions of developing countries such as China, India and Brazil are estimated to overtake those of developed countries by 2004. Senator Minchin renewed his call for developing countries to be engaged in the Kyoto Protocol process. "If developing countries are not involved, Australia and other developed nations will lose industry and jobs offshore as companies relocate to avoid greenhouse restrictions," he said.

The Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the United Nations climate treaty, governs the emissions of six greenhouse gases by 39 industrialized countries including Australia. Most of the countries must reduce their gas emissions relative to their 1990 levels, but Australia is permitted to increase its emissions by eight percent.

Still, says Minchin, Australia's economy would be hurt if the protocol comes into effect.

A member of Australia's Liberal government, Senator Minchin accused the Labor opposition of threatening the future of Australian industry and the livelihood of its workers by committing to ratify the Protocol, even without US backing and the engagement of developing nations.

"Allens Consulting has estimated that more than 50,000 jobs in non-metropolitan Queensland alone, would be lost if the Protocol was implemented in its current form. Labor is courting the extreme green vote at the cost of industry and jobs for Australians," Minchin charged.