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Environmental Impacts from Photovoltaic Solar Cells Made with Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes

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School of Solar and Advanced Renewable Energy, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Toledo 2801 W. Bancroft St., Toledo, Ohio 43606, United States
School of Solar and Advanced Renewable Energy, Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Toledo 2801 W. Bancroft St., Toledo, Ohio 43606, United States
*(I.C.) Phone: (419) 530-8120; e-mail: [email protected]
*(B.E.M.) Phone: (419) 530-8120; e-mail: [email protected]
Cite this: Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017, 51, 8, 4722–4732
Publication Date (Web):February 24, 2017
Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

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    An ex-ante life cycle inventory was developed for single walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) PV cells, including a laboratory-made 1% efficient device and an aspirational 28% efficient four-cell tandem device. The environmental impact of unit energy generation from the mono-Si PV technology was used as a reference point. Compared to monocrystalline Si (mono-Si), the environmental impacts from 1% SWCNT was ∼18 times higher due mainly to the short lifetime of three years. However, even with the same short lifetime, the 28% cell had lower environmental impacts than mono-Si. The effects of lifetime and efficiency on the environmental impacts were further examined. This analysis showed that if the SWCNT device efficiency had the same value as the best efficiency of the material under comparison, to match the total normalized impacts of the mono- and poly-Si, CIGS, CdTe, and a-Si devices, the SWCNT devices would need a lifetime of 2.8, 3.5, 5.3, 5.1, and 10.8 years, respectively. It was also found that if the SWCNT PV has an efficiency of 4.5% or higher, its energy payback time would be lower than other existing and emerging PV technologies. The major impacts of SWCNT PV came from the cell’s materials synthesis.

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