Australia solar pioneer collapses after funding failure, death of lead scientist

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One of Australia’s longest running solar technology developers,  GreatCell Solar, has called in voluntary administrators after failing to find funds to support a $25 million project to prove its technology, and following the death of its lead scientist in a mountaineering accident in the Swiss Alps.

GreatCell was originally known as DyeSol, a company looking to exploit 3rd generation solar PV technologies such as solar dyes and perovskite cells. It spent more than $130 million on research, and raised more than $100 million from investors, and was seeking more.

The company announced the appointment of voluntary administrators on Tuesday following after what it called a “series of unfortunate and unwelcome developments” in recent week, including the death of chief scientist, Dr Hans Desilvestro, in a mountaineering accident on November 10.

It says it was also looking to raise funds for a $25 million prototype project to help it commercialise its perovskite solar technology, but could only raise $1.025 million through investors and government funding agencies.

“Despite a global search and chasing down every potential funding opportunity, GSL has not been able to attract sufficient long-term equity investment,” it said in a statement.

“This is an extremely disappointing outcome for Greatcell Solar, its directors, employees and shareholders given the considerable investment already undertaken over many years to achieve an advanced, pre-commercialisation status for its 3rd generation photovoltaic technology.

“The Company is widely considered amongst its international peers to be pre-eminent in the field of Perovskite Solar Cell PV technology.”

The company also blamed the “highly conditional” access to available government assistance, citing the “increasing amounts of red-tape” and changes to the R&D rebate entitlement. It also blamed uncertainty over government policy.

“Unsurprisingly, banks are becoming increasingly cautious about lending in such an uncertain regulatory environment.”

“With the appointment of Administrators, BRI Ferrier, the outlook for shareholders is uncertain at best,” it noted, although it said it could see a future in its subsidiary that manufacturers specialty chemicals.

The company has been listed since 2005, and some in the solar industry say that it – like others – was simply beaten by the stunning falls in the cost of silicon solar technology, which has cut costs by 90 per cent in the last 10 years.

Promoters of perovskite solar say it has lower embodied energy in manufacture, and has a strong competitive advantage in low-light conditions and applications such as building integrated PV, such as windows and walls.

And despite collaborations in the past with the likes of glass manufacturers Pilkington and others, and more recently with the CSIRO and ARENA, it has struggled to compete with existing technologies.

“The appointment of an administrator to Greatcell (formerly Dyesol) reflects the growing challenges of new technologies in a mature market where silicon technologies continue to improve in both performance and efficiency,” said Renate Egan, the head of the Australian PV Institute.

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