Most of the solar cells that are currently being manufactured are known as “second-generation” solar cells. Since these cells are already in production, our goal is to work within current manufacturing processes to understand and minimize the risks associated with these cells.
What Are Second-Generation Solar Cells?
Often called “thin-film” cells, second-generation solar cells typically use less silicon and other materials compared to first-generation cells. Second-generation cells are less expensive than first-generation cells, but they are also less efficient in terms of converting sunlight to energy.
Understanding the Risks
Before we can recommend widespread changes, we must understand the environmental and social impact of manufacturing second-generation solar cells.
As part of our research, we will:
- Inventory the solar industry’s chemical footprint, using proven tools such as GreenScreen and the Chemical Footprint Project to measure the risk to industry, workers and communities
- Study how second-generation solar cells lose performance and degrade over time
- Examine what happens to these cells at the end of their lifecycle, including the decommissioning process and potential barriers to a circular economy (in which materials could be recaptured and reused)
Optimizing Current Technologies
By partnering with solar cell manufacturers, we can help them improve their existing materials and processes, while reducing the negative impacts on workers and communities. To make rapid advances, we will explore solutions that are effective, robust and rapidly deployable within current manufacturing facilities.
For example, we will explore:
- Safer alternatives to current solvents and etchants
- New functional materials that can replace conventional materials without compromising their engineering integrity
- Improvements to worker safety
- Proactive ways to address community health concerns
- Inclusive approaches to workforce development