A bright future for Australian energy, technology and expertise

In the second of our series of opinion pieces from Science meets Parliament sponsors, Professor Paul Mulvaney, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, discusses how to extend Australia’s renewable energy generation capability, create jobs and deliver better results for businesses and energy consumers.

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‘Our land abounds with nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare’. As we progress further into an exciting but uncertain 21st century, those words ring more truly now than ever before.

Australia unquestionably remains the lucky country. In particular, we are blessed with an abundance of the most powerful resource available anywhere on the planet – sunlight.

A pressing concern for all Australians is the need to power the places we live and work, as well as our means of transportation and the economy. We have to make sure this is done competitively and sustainably.

The rapidly expanding global market for clean energy and the new products being created by carbon-neutral industries offer an economic windfall to those countries quick enough to take advantage.

To capitalise on these opportunities, Australia requires specialist scientific and research capabilities across numerous disciplines, as well as effective partnerships with business, and access to capital and markets.

These complementary areas of focus must be linked together by a determination to meet the challenges of a changing world and a commitment to continue thriving in the face of obstacles and competition.

Since its inception in 2017, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science has been excelling in its mission to fulfil this imperative.

Exciton Science is a collaboration between world-class representatives of academia and industry, dedicated to discovering new ways to source and use energy.

Comprising theoretical and experimental chemists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers at five of Australia’s leading universities, Exciton Science works in close cooperation with its major industry partners: the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

The members of Exciton Science are united by a shared passion for the exciting possibilities of transforming light into energy and energy into light.

We are seeking to better understand the fundamental processes that govern light harvesting, energy transfer and conversion. With this enhanced understanding, the Centre can help to develop new and hybrid materials for harnessing and manipulating the full spectrum of light.

Exciton Science will extend Australia’s renewable energy generation capability beyond conventional silicon photovoltaics to encompass low cost, high efficiency and flexible next-generation materials made from abundant, sustainable sources, thereby creating jobs and delivering better results for businesses and energy consumers.

Our enhanced understanding of light is also enabling progress in optical sensing and security technology, including chemical detection devices and anti-counterfeiting technology, providing us with enhanced competitiveness and trust in currency production, as well as protection from toxins in agricultural and defence applications.

Exciton Science is setting global benchmarks in the measurement and understanding of next-generation photovoltaics. We are developing the world’s first fully automated discovery platform for new solar cell materials, a project supported by innovative use of machine learning.

In the last year alone, our researchers have demonstrated a potential pathway to developing windows that generate their own power, they’ve increased the stability of next-generation perovskite solar cells and found a unique solution to the challenge of harnessing low-energy photons, which sit beyond the near infrared in the light spectrum, for capture by photovoltaics.

Away from the lab, the Centre is seeking to build further productive links with businesses throughout Australia via our Industry Connect Program, offering students and researchers invaluable professional experience and networking opportunities, including with the venture capital firms able to transform their scientific expertise into entrepreneurial success.

With the support of the Australian Research Council, Exciton Science stands ready to continue making a positive impact to Australia’s renewable energy generation infrastructure, clean energy export industry, advanced materials manufacturing capability and economic competitiveness. In the process, we’re providing the next generation of scientists with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to light up Australia’s future for years to come.

Professor Paul Mulvaney is Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science. This piece is published as part of a series from sponsors of this year’s Science meets Parliament.

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