UNSW solar researcher wins global award, as funding remains in doubt

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The University of New South Wales solar team has produced yet another global award-winning researcher, with UNSW Engineering Associate Professor Brett Hallam winning the 2020 IEEE Stuart R Wenham Young Professional Award.

The annual award – the top prize, globally, in the field of photovoltaic technology for young researchers – recognises individual contributions to the science and technology of photovoltaic energy conversion, and potential as a future leader in the field.

Hallam was nominated for the award by another legend of the Australian solar world, UNSW’s Scientia Professor Martin Green.

Green, himself known as Australia’s “Father of Photovoltaics,” said on Thursday that he nominated Hallam based on the significance of his work, which has helped push UNSW PERC cells to number one position worldwide, accounting for over 80% of global solar manufacturing capacity.

Associated professor Hallam is regarded as the leading expert, globally, for hydrogen passivation in silicon solar cells, his research resulting in a significant increase in the electrical output of solar panels, and thus cheaper photovoltaic-generated electricity.

Associate Professor Brett Hallam. Source: UNSW

His focus is on developing techniques for manipulating the charge state of atomic hydrogen in silicon to neutralise performance-limiting defects in solar cells. In particular, it aims to avoid a natural and ironic form of degradation of solar panels that occurs under sunlight.

Hallam has also managed multiple international collaborations with industrial solar cell manufacturers and research institutes, achieving world-record silicon solar cell efficiencies.

The award, named in honour of UNSW solar pioneer Professor Stuart Wenham, has particular significance for Hallam, who completed his PhD in photovoltaic engineering under the late Professor Wenham’s supervision.

“It’s a great honour to receive this award in Stuart’s name. He gave so much to the photovoltaic industry and was a great mentor and friend to me,” Hallam said.

In sadly typical Australian fashion, the global gong comes at a time where the ongoing progress of the UNSW’s world renowned solar team is under serious threat of losing vital government funding.

As the UNSW’s Dr Richard Corkish wrote on RenewEconomy on Thursday, the federal energy minister’s February pledge to halt government support for solar and wind research, combined with ongoing uncertainty around future ARENA finance, has created a cloud of uncertainty over the team’s future.

Hallam’s own industry-leading PV technology was developed and commercialised under research projects funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the UNSW notes.

“We know that our governments do accept and act on scientific consensus for our common good. Australia’s renewable energy abundance and low population density, together with our well-educated and hardworking people, give us the chance to be a powerhouse for global recovery,” Dr Corkish wrote this week.

“Our call is for government to not wait for another global economic crisis to spur our continued investment in a resilient, renewable economy,” he said.

“UNSW has held the world record for silicon solar cell efficiencies for 30 of the last 37 years, thanks to the work of A/Prof. Hallam, Prof. Green and their teams of world-leading researchers in this field,” the UNSW noted on Thursday.

“This is the second time a UNSW researcher has received the IEEE Young Professional Award. Professor Bram Hoex won it in 2016.”

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