Organic photovoltaics: Potential fate and effects in the environment

Y.S. Zimmermann, A. Schäffer, C. Hugi, K. Fent, P.F.X. Corvini, M. Lenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


In times of dwindling fossil fuels it is particularly crucial to develop novel “green” technologies in order to cover the increasing worldwide demand for energy. Organic photovoltaic solar cells (OPVs) are promising as a renewable energy source due to low energy requirement for production, low resource extraction, and no emission of greenhouse gasses during use. In contrast to silicium-based solar cells, OPVs offer the advantages of light-weight, semi-transparency and mechanical flexibility. As to a possible forthcoming large-scale production, the environmental impact of such OPVs should be assessed and compared to currently best available technologies. For the first time, this review compiles the existing knowledge and identifies gaps regarding the environmental impact of such OPVs in a systematic manner. In this regard, we discuss the components of a typical OPV layer by layer. We discuss the probability of enhanced release of OPV-borne components into the environment during use-phase (e.g. UV- and biodegradation) and end-of-life phase (e.g. incineration and waste disposal). For this purpose, we compiled available data on bioavailability, bioaccumulation, biodegradation, and ecotoxicity. Whereas considerable research has already been carried out concerning the ecotoxicity of certain OPV components (e.g. nanoparticles and fullerenes), others have not been investigated at all so far. In conclusion, there is a general lack of information about fate, behavior as well as potential ecotoxicity of most of the main OPV components and their degradation/transformation products. So far, there is no evidence for a worrying threat coming from OPVs, but since at present, no policy and procedures regarding recycling of OPVs are in action, in particular improper disposal upon end-of-life might result in an adverse effect of OPVs in the environment when applied in large-scale.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-140
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • polymer solar-cells
  • indium-tin-oxide
  • fullerene water suspensions
  • life-cycle analysis
  • polyethylene terephthalate
  • engineered nanoparticles
  • biodegradable polymers
  • aquatic organisms
  • manufactured nanoparticles
  • degradation mechanisms


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