Thomas Ratcliff

australian national university

When I started my engineering degree I hadn’t considered a career in solar energy.  It wasn’t until my second year, when I took a class about semiconductors based on solar, that my interest in solar energy began.  The Australian National University (ANU), being a leader in this field, offered many opportunities for me to study renewable energy as part of our classes, and my interest continued to grow.

I completed my honours project on the operation of silicon solar cells at extremely low temperaturesand went on to work at the University as a research assistant. I helped design and build flexible, portable solar modules for the department of Defence, and contributed to the design of a concentrated solar power system.

The appeal of starting a PhD was that would allow me to control the direction of my work.  I wanted to be able to focus more on cell design, and develop new modules and systems.   One of the biggest problems stopping me from returning to studying was money – it’s hard to go from a salary to a student allowance!  The clincher was that I received an ASI scholarship to top up my student allowance.

This additional support allowed me to commit to another three years of study without needing to worry about part-time or casual employment to supplement my income. This has allowed me to focus on my research and will contribute to the results produced from my research.  

As with most researchers in renewable energy, my broad aim is to continue progress towards reducing the cost of solar cells and solar energy, so that it may be competitive with conventional power stations. My project focuses on developing high efficiency silicon solar cells that are suitable for concentrating systems. 

The key advantage of concentrating systems is that expensive solar cells are replaced with comparatively cheap optical elements that focus the light onto the solar cells.  Cost reduction may be achieved through a combination of increasing cell efficiency, improved manufacturing processes and innovative receiver design. 

I hope that by the end of my project I have manufactured a high efficiency solar cell using an improved manufacturing process or innovative solar cell design. I will focus on new methods for introducing dopant atoms into solar cells and reducing the number and length of high temperature steps. Any new or modified processes might then be applied to conventional or new solar cell designs. One example of an innovative solar cell design is Sliver solar cells, which were originally developed at the ANU. Sliver cells have the advantage of decreasing the amount of silicon required to manufacture solar cells. In the future, I may be able to apply new techniques to Sliver cells.

Thomas Ratcliff's story (PDF 879KB)

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