Engineers Australia Awards Top SPREE Entrepreneur

Winning the Engineers Australia (EA) Entrepreneur of the Year Award came as a huge surprise to Professor Thorsten Trupke, not least because he didn’t actually know he’d been nominated.

Professor Thorsten Trupke equally acknowledged colleagues Dr. Robert Bardos and Dr. Ian Maxwell for the award

“It was fantastic to win the award,” says Professor Thorsten Trupke from UNSW’s School for Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE), on winning the EA Entrepreneur of the Year Award in October at a gala dinner in Sydney. “Although the first time I heard about it was a week before the ceremony when I got emails from EA and from Peter Tyree, who sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council, who said, ‘You should be at the ceremony on Thursday, you’re one of the finalists...’”

Trupke’s UNSW PV solar adventure started back in 2001 when he was headhunted by “Father of Photovoltaics”, Scientia Professor Martin Green and decided to relocate to Sydney from the University of Karlsruhe in Germany to work in Green’s world-famous Solar PV Group.

After working on “relatively esoteric topics” like third generation photovoltaics for a few years, Trupke’s research led, in 2005, to exploring the use of light emission from silicon, called luminescence, as a way of characterising silicon wafers and silicon solar cells.

“We discovered a very useful imaging technique which facilitated the super-fast characterisations of all kinds of silicon samples relevant for solar cell development. To give you an idea, it enabled measurements, which previously took 5-6 hours, to be taken in a matter of seconds,” he explains.

In a similar way to a doctor using an x-ray to examine a broken leg, Trupke and his colleague Dr Robert Bardos had discovered a way to look inside silicon samples to see if there were any electronic defects, structural defects or impurities. “It was a real eye-opener for everyone at UNSW, and once we’d published papers on the topic, it became a big deal throughout the global PV solar R&D community,” he says.

Our work contributes to an exciting energy revolution which will completely change the way electricity is generated, used and distributed over the next 20 years

Professor Thorsten Trupke, CTO at BT Imaging and Professor at the School for Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW

As word got out, expressions of interest came flooding in, so, Trupke and Bardos started working with UNSW Innovations to start a company. Today, BT Imaging has been operating for 10 years, has 25 staff and creates annual revenues of approximately $5 million.

“I think the reason we won this award, and I say we because it belongs in equal parts to Dr Robert Bardos my academic colleague and Dr Ian Maxwell the CEO of our company, is because we have created a nice example of what innovation entails,” Trupke says.

“Innovation requires someone to see a need for a new technology, come up with an idea, take this idea from the fundamentals, through product development and then into a final product that can be commercialised. This is exactly what we did. I’m still an academic at the University, where we continue to drive the technology forward, but I’m also CTO of a successful company producing in-line tools for high-volume manufacturing, and laboratory tools for very detailed diagnostics.”

Working in the solar space is a rewarding place to find himself in and Trupke is grateful for all the opportunities afforded him by working at UNSW, where he feels he has been able to contribute practical solutions to one of humanities greatest challenges: sustainable power.

“Working in the space of solar energy is fantastic. Our work contributes to an exciting energy revolution which will completely change the way electricity is generated, used and distributed over the next 20 years. It’s challenging work but incredibly satisfying.” 

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