Preserving the Environment

What Toxic Chemical Can Be Used to Make Solar Cells?

September 8, 2014
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What Toxic Chemical Can Be Used to Make Solar Cells?
A team of researchers may have found another use for the toxic chemicals in used batteries. Screengrab via YouTube
MIT researchers discover a second life for dead, lead-filled batteries.

How many times have you gone to use your TV remote only to find that its batteries are dead?

Another dead battery is useless, right? Well, not to researchers at MIT, which have found another way to use these lifeless objects: recycling their main ingredient — lead — to create solar cells.

Lead is a toxic substance that not only causes a multitude of medical problems but is also linked to spikes in violent crime. That’s why many governments have outlawed it from being used in paint and gasoline, as well as requiring battery manufacturers to recycle their product.

However, while the recycling process was working, there’s a slight hitch now. With the introduction of non-lead batteries, such as lithium-ion ones, there isn’t going to be as much of a need to recycle the old lead-filled ones, according to Fast Company.

So what’s going to happen to all that lead?

Fortunately, MIT researchers discovered the ability to use lead to produce solar cells from a material called perovskite, a mineral that’s incredibly energy efficient. Not only is it cheaper than the silicon used in today’s cells, but it also converts solar energy to electricity at a little less than 20 percent. To top it off, the mineral is highly flexible — meaning that the cells it makes are 100 times thinner than human hairs and can bend easily, reports Fast Company.

Normally, acquiring the lead would be a problem, but with all of these excess batteries, researchers have found their supply. From each battery, about 30 solar cells could be made.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any plans to commercialize this product. MIT researchers are leaving that to other companies, such as the U.K.’s Oxford PV, while they work on a lead-free perovskite solar cell.

But for the time being, those old batteries are being put to good use and given a second life.

Who would’ve thought something so toxic could be so energy efficient?

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