Budi Tjahjono: photovoltaic and solar graduate
Alumnus Budi Tjahjono was one of UNSW's first students to study renewable energy. Now he’s the CTO of Sunrise Global Solar Energy
As a young boy growing up in Surabaya, Indonesia, Budi Tjahjono was passionate about electronics but also intrigued with high-tech, science fiction ideas. These passions fused when he came to UNSW Australia to study a Bachelor of Engineering in Photovoltaics and Solar Energy Engineering.
“I was in the first intake of the new degree,” Budi says. “When I looked at the photovoltaic brochure it looked like I was going to study something really futuristic, but when I got here I realised that photovoltaics and solar energy are a growing necessity right now.”
Fifteen years later, with three UNSW degrees under his belt, Budi Tjahjono is now the Chief Technical Officer of a Taiwanese solar cell manufacturer, Sunrise Global Solar Energy, where he leads the R&D and engineering teams.
After his undergraduate degree, Budi Tjahjono followed up with a Master of Commerce and then a PhD, all in quick succession. Looking back on his decade at UNSW from 2000-2010, he says that the three graduation ceremonies were a highlight, but he also really enjoyed being part of the student solar car project.
“I did summer volunteer work making thousands of solar cells for our solar car (the Sunswift II) now on display at the TYREE building with fellow first year students, and that was an unforgettable and very useful experience,” he says. With his team mates, Budi Tjahjono got to watch their car take part in the world solar car championships in Alice Springs.
Since its beginnings in 1996, the Sunswift team has built five solar vehicles and its current car, eVe, broke the world long distance speed record last year. The team is currently adapting eVe to become the world’s first road-legal solar-powered sports car.
As well as building solar cars, throughout his years at UNSW Budi Tjahjono was constantly inspired by the dedication of all the people he worked with. “I was very impressed with how passionate everyone is in this field, both the lecturers and the students, since what we study and do really can make a difference in the world’s future energy production,” he says.
When I looked at the photovoltaic brochure it looked like I was going to study something really futuristic, but when I got here I realised that photovoltaics and solar energy are a growing necessity right now.
During Budi's Masters of Commerce, Scientia Professor Stuart Wenham offered him the opportunity to do a collaborative PhD project with an industry partner on “laser doping on solar cells” – which involved developing a process to simplify solar cell manufacture, making it more affordable.
“Budi was one of the best PhD students I have had,” says Stuart Wenham. “Very strong academically, but also with a flair for experimentation that made him particularly valuable when developing new and highly innovative solar cell technology. He was also a very good team player, willing to help any other students while also working particularly well with others on related projects. Everyone liked him and respected him highly.”
During Budi's PhD, Stuart Wenham says that his talent was his ability to innovate and implement solutions experimentally. “(This) allowed him to implement his solar cell design, increasing the performance - with each iteration - up to world-record levels,” Stuart Wenham says.
Budi was actively involved in the large-scale commercialisation of this technology and is also inventor/co-inventor of many related patents owned by UNSW.
Sunrise Global Solar Energy, his current employer, is a UNSW industry partner on the ARENA project, where researchers have developed a new generation technology to passivate defective crystalline silicon with hydrogen, and make it perform as if it were much higher quality silicon.At the same time, the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering employed Budi as a technology transfer consultant, liaising with many of UNSW’s industry partners in China, Taiwan and Germany.
“We are currently working with Budi and Sunrise to implement this technology onto their production lines,” Staurt says. “This new technology should allow manufacturers to use even lower cost grades of silicon without losing performance, which is of particular importance since the silicon wafer is the major cost associated with making solar cells.”
Budi returns regularly to UNSW to collaborate with research students and fellows, and believes the future of solar power globally is very bright.
“The international pressure and competition is really on for solar to reach grid parity with other traditional energies like coal,” he says. “The solar industry is growing and growing; always trying to push the cost down and improve efficiency of cells.”
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