Recycling technology produces new solar cells from old batteries

August 25, 2014 0 By Amanda Giasson

Researchers at MIT have found a new method for creating solar cells.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have discovered a recycling technology that will allow them to produce perovskite solar cells by using the lead in old lead-acid batteries.

Lead is one of the common elements required to make perovskite cells.

This type of solar cell is a new technology and a cheaper one because it requires elements that are more common compared to conventional silicon cells. Creating perovskite cells requires lower temperatures and is a far simpler process. Although it is new solar energy technology, incredible progress has been made over the past couple of years. The cells have reached 19% efficiency and are quickly approaching efficiency levels of many commercial solar panels.

However, one of the biggest issues that researchers and scientists face is procuring the lead that is needed to produce the cell. Lead is a toxic heavy metal and mining for it has considerable environmental impacts and it is also environmentally hazardous to produce.

While this would otherwise pose a problem for making perovskite cells, several years down the road, lead batteries are anticipated to be phased out and replaced by alternatives to lead that are readily available, less expensive, and more efficient. Now, one way to solve the dilemma of having to dispose of old lead-acid batteries is to recycle them and provide perovskite cells with the element they need, which sounds like a win-win situation.

The battery and solar cell recycling technology method is more environmentally friendly than manufacturing silicon solar panels.

Currently, approximately 90% of lead that is recycled from old batteries is utilized to make new ones, according to Angela M. Belcher, an MIT professor. If the market for these batteries should dry up, however, there will be a massive surplus of the material, making the disposal of it a problem, which is why the proposal an MIT research team has made to use the lead to manufacture perovskite cells is quite significant.

The recycled lead works just as well as metal that has come directly from the mine and only a small amount is required in the creation process. The team has said that a single car battery can create enough solar cells to power 30 households.

Furthermore, the simpler process required to manufacture these cells is easily scalable and friendlier to the environment compared to the method required for silicon cells. Also, the lead is safely contained in encapsulated panels.

Belcher believes that the recycling technology will be further explored by other photovoltaics researchers, who will be able to perfect it and maximize its efficiency.