Effective recycling of spent perovskite solar modules will further reduce the energy requirements and environmental consequences of their production and deployment, thus facilitating their sustainable development. Here, through ‘cradle-to-grave’ life cycle assessments of a variety of perovskite solar cell architectures, we report that substrates with conducting oxides and energy-intensive heating processes are the largest contributors to primary energy consumption, global warming potential and other types of impact. We therefore focus on these materials and processes when expanding to ‘cradle-to-cradle’ analyses with recycling as the end-of-life scenario. Our results reveal that recycling strategies can lead to a decrease of up to 72.6% in energy payback time and a reduction of 71.2% in greenhouse gas emission factor. The best recycled module architecture can exhibit an extremely small energy payback time of 0.09 years and a greenhouse gas emission factor as low as 13.4 g CO2 equivalent per kWh; it therefore outcompetes all other rivals, including the market-leading silicon at 1.3–2.4 years and 22.1–38.1 g CO2 equivalent per kWh. Finally, we use sensitivity analyses to highlight the importance of prolonging device lifetime and to quantify the effects of uncertainty induced by the still immature manufacturing processes, changing operating conditions and individual differences for each module.
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All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in the paper are present in the paper and/or the Supplementary Materials. The LCA modelling file with all data inputs, results, methodological notes, figures, discussion of uncertainties and sources is available on GitHub (https://github.com/PEESEgroup/Perovskite-Recycling-LCA). Additional data are available from the authors upon request.
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This work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award (CBET-1643244). S.D.S. acknowledges support from the Royal Society and Tata Group (UF150033).
S.D.S. is a co-founder of Swift Solar. All other authors have no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Adalgisa Sinicropi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Detailed breakdowns of 18 midpoint impact categories according to the ReCiPe method for LBSO module.
Detailed breakdowns of 18 midpoint impact categories according to the ReCiPe method for defect-engineered module.
Normalized LCIA results with LBSO module defined as the base case for normalization.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Uncertainty analysis for the LBSO module in terms of EPBT and GHG emission factor.
Probability and frequency statistics for EPBT and GHG emission factor based on Monte Carlo simulations.
Extended Data Fig. 5 Sensitivity analysis for the LBSO module in terms of EPBT and GHG emission factor.
Sensitivity analysis for EPBT and GHG emission factor based on Monte Carlo simulations.
Extended Data Fig. 6 Sensitivity analysis for recycling the LBSO module in terms of primary energy consumption and global warming potential.
Tornado charts of the sensitivity analysis results for producing recycled LBSO module.
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Tian, X., Stranks, S.D. & You, F. Life cycle assessment of recycling strategies for perovskite photovoltaic modules. Nat Sustain 4, 821–829 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00737-z
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