Solar Cell Pioneer Wins the €1 Million Millennium Technology Prize

HELSINKI, Oct. 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The 2022 Millennium Technology Prize has been awarded to Scientia Professor Martin Green of the UNSW Sydney, Australia, for his innovation that has transformed the production of solar energy.

The €1 million global award for technology, conferred every two years, recognised Green’s leadership in the development of the Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC). Since its development in 1983, the PERC has gone on to become the most commercially viable and efficient silicon solar cell technology for use in solar panels and for large-scale electricity production, accounting for almost 90% of the global solar cell market. 

Green developed the PERC with his team by improving the quality of both the top and the rear surface of standard silicon solar cells.  When sunlight – in the form of particles called photons – enters a cell, it excites the electrons within the silicon. In this excited state, electrons can move through the cell, creating electric current.

The improved surface of the PERC allows the electrons to maintain this excited state – or move freely – for longer, resulting in greater and more efficient energy generation. The PERC has helped increase the conversion efficiency of standard solar cells by over 50% in relative terms from 16.5% in the early 1980s to 25% in the early 2000s.

The innovation has greatly reduced the costs of using solar panels, making solar energy more affordable than fossil-based alternatives. PERCs can also provide an energy supply to homes without them needing to be connected to a grid, ensuring a reliable power supply for remote communities.

Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland and Patron of the prize, conferred the Millennium Technology Prize upon Green at a ceremony in Helsinki today.

Professor Green said: “It is a great honour to have been selected to receive such a prestigious prize. It not only recognises my contribution to photovoltaics [the conversion of light into electrical power], but also the achievements of my students and research colleagues at UNSW, as well as those of the broader photovoltaic research and commercial community.

“I believe the Prize will increase my credibility as a spokesperson for what needs to be done to address climate change. We need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to sustain the trajectory of human civilization on our shared planet. The pace of change is accelerating and the world will shift to solar and wind energy over the coming decade. I believe a huge transformation of historic significance is underway.”

Green and his team are currently working on combined cell technologies to reach 40% solar cell efficiency by exploring options such as stacking cells on top of each other. 

Green said: “Solar cells are increasingly being used to replace large power stations that use fossil fuels. In 2021, 20 countries or regions including Australia, Chile, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Vietnam and California (US) generated between 8% to 25% of their total electricity supply from solar energy, with this number growing quickly. 

“The rapid cost reductions in solar energy that my work has facilitated have come just in time, right at the point when the importance of acting immediately to address climate change has become overwhelmingly obvious.”

Professor Minna Palmroth, Chair of the Board of Technology Academy Finland, said: “Professor Green’s innovation has already and will continue to greatly enhance the quality of life for billions of people globally and enhance environmentally sustainable development, from national power grids to private housing.” 

Professor Päivi Törmä, Chair of the International Selection Committee of the Millennium Technology Prize, said: “PERCs can help us provide low-cost energy solutions and mitigate climate change. Continued research on solar cells is needed to replace their constituents that have limited supply, such as silver, with more abundant alternatives.” 

The 2022 ceremony celebrating Green’s innovation will be held alongside the Millennium Innovation Forum, also hosted by Technology Academy Finland, which runs from October 25-26. The Forum brings together internationally renowned experts to discuss how technology can solve the world’s greatest challenges. 

Speakers include Bellingcat’s investigative journalist and Executive Director, Christo Grozev, who implicated the Russian government in the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and is currently investigating war crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine. It also features Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 forerunner and Silicon Valley expert; and Marissa Mayer, ex-CEO of Yahoo, and Google’s 20th employee and first female engineer.

The innovation forum’s session on diversity in research and development will be hosted by Finland’s Research and Innovation Council, which is chaired by Finnish Prime Minister.

There will be a press conference with Professor Martin Green at 9:00 am EEST (UTC+3) on 25th October 2022, embargoed until 25th October 2022, 6.30 PM EEST (UTC+3). Professor Green will also deliver a lecture at 5:10 pm EEST (UTC+3) on 26th October 2022.

For more information, press conference details or interview requests, please contact:

Saiansha Panangipalli
Email: saiansha@curzonpr.com and millenniumprize@curzonpr.com;
Tel: +91 99715 74820

Q/A with Martin Green about PERC:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1M5qSa2GnIdH0clWpOHDXIxWZdKeiVUqx/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=107249428655872742154&rtpof=true&sd=true

Watch and download a video and photos about Professor Martin Green, the 2022 Millennium Technology Award prize winner: here.

About the Millennium Technology Prize:

The €1 million Millennium Technology Prize is the preeminent award focused on technological innovations for a better life. This includes work that improves human well-being, biodiversity, and wider sustainability. Overseen by the Technology Academy Finland, it was first awarded in 2004 and its patron is the President of the Republic of Finland. Winners are selected by a distinguished international panel of experts from academia and industry. Innovations must be backed up by rigorous academic and scientific research and fulfill several criteria, including promoting sustainable development and biodiversity, generating applications with commercial viability, and creating accessible socio-economic value.

Past winning projects range from DNA sequencing that helped to develop COVID-19 vaccines, to ethical stem-cell research and versatile, affordable smart technology. For other information, visit https://millenniumprize.org/

The previous winners of the Millennium Technology Prize are:         

2004 – Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web; 2006 – Professor Shuji Nakamura for the production of the first successful blue LED, the final step in creating a brilliant white LED; 2008 – Professor Robert Langer for his work in controlled drug delivery, the underlying technology behind mRNA vaccines.  2010 – Professor Michael Grätzel for third generation dye-sensitized solar cells, which promise electricity-generating windows and low-cost solar panels; 2012 – Joint winners: Professor Shinya Yamanaka, for ethical stem cell research and Linus Torvalds for the Linux open-source operating system, which has become the basis of Android smartphones, tablets, digital television recorders and supercomputers the world over; 2014 – Professor Stuart Parkin, for developing increased data storage density, which has enabled a thousand-fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives; 2016 – Dr Frances Arnold, for her work on directed evolution, which mimics natural evolution to create new and better proteins in the laboratory, and is being used to create green alternatives to fossil-based raw materials;    2018 – Dr Tuomo Suntola, for atomic layer deposition (ALD), that enables manufacture of nanoscale thin material layers for microprocessors and digital memory devices, which has helped revolutionize smartphones. 2020 – Joint winners: Professor Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor David Klenerman, for the Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology that can accurately determine the complete DNA sequence of an organism at a low-cost and in super-fast times and has helped researchers identify the underlying factors in individuals that contribute to their immune response to COVID-19.

About the Millennium Innovation Forum:

The Millennium Innovation Forum brings together people from business, academia, and the public sector to discuss new solutions to global problems. This year’s forum is hosted by Jason Palmer, presenter of The Intelligence podcast published by The Economist. Sessions include Diversity in RDI, Green Transition, Digital Transformation and Resilience. For information on speakers, sessions and watching the forum and Professor Green’s lecture online, visit: https://millenniumprize.org/events/millennium-innovation-forum/

To request press accreditation for attending the Millennium Innovation Forum, visit: https://e.eventos.fi/events/tapaus/millennium-innovation-forum/mif-media

About Technology Academy Finland:

Technology Academy Finland (TAF) awards the global €1 million Millennium Technology Prize and runs associated events and initiatives. It provides an international meeting ground for corporate life, academia, and policymakers, and promotes Finland’s position in the global community.

The following files are available for download: