Industry mourns passing of solar pioneer

The solar industry is mourning the passing of UNSW Professor Stuart Wenham, director of the Photovoltaics Centre of Excellence, and a pioneering researcher and inventor of solar cell technologies.

Wenham passed away peacefully on the morning of December 23, 2017, with family and close friends by his side. He died from malignant melanoma, for which he had been in treatment since being diagnosed in September, and had hoped to make a full recovery – but his condition declined quite suddenly.

“Stuart was a wonderful colleague and an inspiring leader who will be deeply missed by all who knew him,” UNSW Dean of Engineering Prof Mark Hoffman said.

“His influence as an Australian engineer on the world’s transition to renewable energy was considerable. In an incredible career spanning more than a quarter century, he invented or co-invented suites of solar cell technologies that have been licensed to solar cell makers around the world and have had a major impact on renewable energy generation.

“Stuart Wenham will be remembered for his selfless and continuous efforts to make the world a better place to live,” he added.

Wenham is inventor of the Advanced Hydrogenation hydrogen passivation technology, which has allowed efficiency of solar cells to be boosted a hundredfold. The technology, based on the use of lasers to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms within a silicon wafer, was heralded as a “breakthrough for silicon photovoltaics” by the UK Institution of Engineering and Technology when it awarded him the 2013 A.F. Harvey Engineering Prize.

Eight industry partners, including some of the world’s biggest silicon producers – Golden Concord Ltd and Xi’an LONGi Silicon Materials Corp, both of China – have signed agreements with UNSW to use Wenham’s hydrogen passivation technology in production lines.

“I am fortunate enough to have seen Stuart in all aspects of his life – work, family, church, sport, and friends,” his daughter, Dr Alison Ciesla, a postdoctoral fellow at UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering, said.

“He had the same positivity, enthusiasm, passion and care for everyone and everything in his life. It is some consolation knowing that he will live on through his many solar projects and the engineers he taught around the world, as well as the values and kindness he inspired in those around him.”

Wenham, who studied under Australian solar energy giant Prof Martin Green, also at UNSW, went on collaborate on key research with his former mentor and to earn his own global recognition, inventing or co-inventing eight classes of solar cell technologies that have been licensed to makers around the world, including Suntech Power, BP Solar and Samsung. These companies have annual production volumes valued at hundreds of millions of dollars in an industry that is now the world’s fastest-growing in the energy sector.

One of Wenham’s many legacies will be his brainchild, the Solar Industrial Research Facility (SIRF) at UNSW’s Kensignton campus, a specially designed $30 million solar research R&D centre. Dubbed ‘the missing link from lab to manufacturing plant’, SIRF seeks to commercialise the state-of-the-art manufacture of cheap, more efficient and less toxic solar cells worldwide by taking laboratory-scale solar technology and developing it for use in commercial manufacturing lines – bringing UNSW’s world-leading solar technology to industry partners globally.

A memorial service is being held today at 2pm at the Sir John Clancy Auditorium at the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.