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This is an interesting study concerning the environmental impact of lead in perovskite solar cells, a photovoltaic technology that has attracted significant attention recently owing to its excellent performance and promise of lower cost compared to conventional and other alternatives. It is of note because it explores the impact on plants of the use of lead in such solar cells and provides evidence that this is something that should be considered with great care.
Prof Christos Markides, Head of the Clean Energy Processes (CEP) Laboratory in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, said:
“Concerns relating to the widespread deployment of lead-based perovskite solar cells have been raised for some time, given that these toxic materials are soluble in water, so contamination can lead to environmental but also health issues once they enter the food chain.
“I would consider it a bold assumption that the entire lead content of a solar panel is being dispersed to the ground below, however the study demonstrates that we may need to conduct further testing to fully understand the impact of these materials on our environment, especially over large areas and long periods of deployment. In parallel to this, research into (lead-free) tin-based perovskite solar cells has been on-going to provide alternatives, but these have not yet shown the level of performance achieved with lead. In either case, non-trivial stability issues remain that act to limit the lifetime of such panels. With the growing need and continuing trend to secure our energy from renewable sources, and especially given the important role of solar energy, it is vital that further research is done on these and other technologies to overcome challenges and to ensure that these are affordable, safe and sustainable."
‘We should be worried about lead in halide perovskites’ by Junming Li et al. was published in Nature Communications at 4pm UK TIME on Tuesday 21 January 2020.
Another real concern is the vast increase in the use of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) in the construction of solar panels – up 1,057 percent over the past 25 years. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deems NF3 to be 17,200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas – meaning that even relatively minor quantities can have major impacts."
Another site States:
Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of electricity generated than nuclear power plants, according to a Thursday report from the pro-nuclear group Environmental Progress (EP).
“There are two types of waste from solar. Waste from the manufacturing scene and waste from the solar panel after it has gone through its useful life. There are materials in those that if they leached out, it wouldn’t be good.”
A Third Site claims:
1. Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.
2. If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the waste is stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).
3. In countries like China, India, and Ghana, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale. Since this process requires burning off the plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth defect-causing) when inhaled
Hazardous materials used in the semi-conductor industry, such as silicon, boron, phosphorus, cadmium, tellurium, arsenic, and gallium, are used in the construction of PV (Solar Panel) modules and components.
In PV modules these materials are sealed between the top layer of glass and the plastic backing of the module, and then are encased in an aluminum frame.
When the PV system is operating under normal conditions, these chemicals do not constitute a hazard. However, during a fire involving PV modules or components, or the adjacent areas around the modules or components, the aluminum frame can become deformed or melt, exposing the hazardous chemicals to direct flame and/or significant heat.
The exposure to flame and heat will cause the materials to dissipate in the smoke plume, constituting an inhalation hazard to Firefighters without breathing apparatus, as well as people standing near the fire building and in the path of the plume.
The inhalation hazard from these chemicals can be mitigated for Firefighters by ensuring the constant use of breathing apparatus and all PPE during fire attack and overhaul operations.
All chemicals listed above are considered toxic under fire conditions; some have a significant increased cancer risk with exposure.
End Of Life Management of PV Solar Panels Containing Hazardous Waste
As of this writing in January of 2020, we could not find any federal standard within the U.S.A., or requirement for end-of-life management of photovoltaic panels that don’t meet the standard for hazardous waste — and they typically do not.
We did find that Washington State has a regulation stating that as of January 1, 2021, they expect to have Solar Panel Recycling Plans implemented and fully in operation.
They also claim that by January 2022, only PV model manufactures participating in a recycling plan will be allowed to be sold in the state of Washington.
We plan on continuing our research in order to find other plans here in America, and as we find additional documentation, we will update this post.