King honours Australians for breakthrough invention

Kat Wong |

King Charles has presented Aihua Wang, one of a team of four Australians, with an engineering prize.
King Charles has presented Aihua Wang, one of a team of four Australians, with an engineering prize.

Four Australian scientists have been awarded the world’s most prestigious engineering prize from King Charles III for their pioneering research into renewable technologies.

Professors Martin Green and Andrew Blakers, alongside Jianhua Zhao and Aihua Wang, invented groundbreaking solar cell technology that has helped reduce the cost of solar panels by 80 per cent in the last decade, earning them the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

The engineers were recognised on Thursday night AEDT when King Charles III presented them with a 3D-printed trophy and an award of almost $A1 million.

Receiving this prize puts the Australians’ invention among the ranks of seminal creations like the internet, LED lights and GPS systems.

Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Lord Browne of Madingley called the solar cell technology “truly groundbreaking”.

“(It) has helped solar power become the world’s cheapest source of electricity,” he said.

Invented at the University of NSW in Sydney, the Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) improves the energy conversion efficiency of silicon cells, which are commonly used in solar panels.

This improvement underpins the exponential growth in high-performance, low-cost solar electricity and has caused a global surge in solar panel installation.

Dr Wang said she was grateful their work has played such a critical role in achieving energy efficiency targets.

“Achievements in engineering can have a remarkable impact all over the world,” she said.

Dr Zhao said the achievement “underscores the importance and influence of engineering, as well as representing an important milestone in energy”.

The prize is awarded for engineering-led advances with tangible and widespread benefit to the public, and receives a swathe of nominations from the public, academies, universities and other organisations every year.