Overcoming the Ecotoxicological Impact of Perovskite Photovoltaic Technologies

Meng li

Nationality Chinese

Year of selection 2021

Institution Queen Mary University of London - Faculty of Science and Engineering

Country United Kingdom

Risk Health

Post-Doctoral Fellowship

2 years

Expected start date: Summer 2022

Solution-processed perovskite solar cells (i.e., the electronic components with a specific crystal structure) have emerged as one of the most promising next-generation photovoltaic technologies and the fastest-growing technology in the history of photovoltaics. More and more industries are embracing these promising technologies that can be used in several fields, such as developing energy solutions for spacecraft and satellites, building power stations, and manufacturing sensor power. This class of photovoltaic technology differs from conventional photovoltaics as they are typically lightweight, flexible, versatile, and inexpensive, with exceptional compatibility with low capital expenditure, high throughput manufacturing, and remarkably quick energy payback (e.g., months instead of years). Extensive research and industrial efforts have been dedicated to developing photovoltaic technologies, resulting in rapid advances in their performance, already rivaling their conventional counterparts such as crystalline silicon. Such efficiency improvement has allowed us to target new niche markets, such as building-integrated applications for the Internet of Things.

However, critical concerns remain over the potentially high ecotoxicological impact of perovskite solar cells arising from the combined effects of 1) excessive quantities of lead typically required in such semiconductors for optimal device performance, which could result in researchers’ and workers’ contamination; and 2) lack of understanding and control of the leaching of lead into the surrounding environment. The consequences could be irreversible not only for human health but also for the natural environment, which can be a critical barrier hampering the entry of perovskite solar cells into the European Union and the global photovoltaics market.

During his AXA Fellowship, Dr. Meng Li will look for a solution to this challenging issue by establishing a new knowledge framework on the relationships between perovskite semiconductors’ materials structure and their ecotoxicity. To conduct this project, he will investigate qualitatively and quantitatively the lead leaching products, their leaching mechanisms, and consequent ecotoxicological impacts of various types of lead-based perovskite semiconductors as a function of their material design. Zebrafish will be used to detect the biological hazards of lead leakage, and multifunctional materials will be added to perovskite devices to inhibit the dissolution of lead and reduce its biotoxicity. In addition, Dr. Li will leverage this knowledge framework to develop novel perovskite semiconductors, which will contain less lead leaching rates but with the same optoelectronic properties, resulting in the first crucial step toward the new generation of high performance and eco-friendly perovskite solar cells.

The project’s outcomes could revolutionize the EU’s and UK’s solar energy sectors by helping these economies achieve their 2050 carbon neutrality and clean growth goals. The new knowledge generated, especially on understanding the ecotoxicological impacts of perovskite solar cells and their mitigation, will provide valuable evidence and guidance for adopting new policies and regulations on the design, manufacturing, usage, and recycling of technologies based on perovskite semiconductors.

May 2022

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