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US team turns used car batteries into solar panels

United States – Researchers from American university MIT have presented a new system for the recycling of materials from used car batteries into ‘long-lasting solar panels’ that provide emission-free power.

The discovery is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite. Already, perovskite-based photovoltaic cells boast a power-conversion efficiency of over 19%, the MIT team explains in the journal Energy and Environmental Science. This is a performance said to be ‘close to that of many commercial silicon-based solar cells’.

Professor Angela M. Belcher of MIT’s energy department observes: ‘Things went from initial demonstrations to good efficiency in less than two years.’ The perovskite photovoltaic material takes the form of a thin film just half a micrometre thick, she adds. The lead from a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to provide power for 30 households.

An ‘added advantage’ is that production of perovskite solar cells is a relatively simple and benign process. ‘It has the advantage of being a low-temperature process, and the number of steps is reduced compared with the manufacture of conventional solar cells,’ Belcher points out. She is confident those factors will make it ‘easy’ to achieve a large scale cheaply.

Today, roughly 90% of the lead recovered from the recycling of old batteries is used to produce new batteries, Belcher notes. The problem is that, over time, the market for new lead-acid batteries is likely to decline, potentially leaving a huge stockpile of lead with no obvious application. ‘Once the battery technology evolves, over 200 million lead-acid batteries will potentially be retired in the United States, and that could cause a lot of environmental issues,’ she states.

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