Thin-Film Photovoltaic Cells: Long-Term Metal(loid) Leaching at Their End-of-Life

Y.S. Zimmermann, A. Schäffer, P.F.X. Corvini, M. Lenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The photovoltaic effect of thin-film copper indium gallium selenide cells (CIGS) is conferred by the latter elements. Organic photovoltaic cells (OPV), relying on organic light-absorbing molecules, also contain a variety of metals (e.g., Zn, Al, In, Sn, Ag). The environmental impact of such technologies is largely unknown, in particular when the physical integrity deteriorates upon end-of-life, possibly facilitating cell constituent leaching. This study analyzed long-term inorganic leaching from damaged OPV and CIGS into different model waters. Leachate concentrations were put into perspective by calculating the predicted environmental concentrations (PEC) for several scenarios. Roof-top acidic rain runoff from CIGS was found to be the predominant emission source for metals and metalloids, with Cd released to such extents that PEC (173.4 µg Cd L–1) would considerably exceed acute toxicity concentrations for Daphnia magna. Other PEC for CIGS (9.9 mg Mo L–1 and 9.4 µg Se L–1) were in the range of teratogenic effects. In contrast, OPV released little metals with calculated PEC being below even conservative drinking water guidelines. Time-resolved single-particle ICP-MS indicated that some metals (Zn, Mo, Ag) were in nanoparticulate form, raising nanotoxicity concerns. Leaching kinetics called for revision of existing standardized (accelerated) leaching protocols because long-term release was most relevant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13151-13159
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • heterojunction solar-cells
  • daphnia-magna
  • comparative toxicity
  • aquatic environment
  • selenium toxicity
  • bulk zno
  • water
  • cadmium
  • health
  • fate

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