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Life cycle assessment of recycling strategies for perovskite photovoltaic modules

Abstract

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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Fig. 1: Schematic of a perovskite solar cell architecture on a glass substrate.
Fig. 2: The system boundary of manufacturing LBSO perovskite solar modules with landfill as the end-of-life scenario.
Fig. 3: Comparison of primary energy consumption between landfill and recycling scenarios for the six investigated PSC architectures.
Fig. 4: Comparison of global warming potential between landfill and recycling scenarios for the six investigated PSC architectures.
Fig. 5: Comparison of EPBT and GHG emission factors among 13 PV modules based on different technologies.

Data availability

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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Acknowledgements

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

F.Y. conceived the research; X.T. developed the models and conducted the simulations; X.T. and F.Y. analysed the results; X.T., S.D.S. and F.Y. wrote the manuscript. All authors reviewed the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fengqi You.

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Competing interests

S.D.S. is a co-founder of Swift Solar. All other authors have no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Adalgisa Sinicropi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Environmental profile of a 1 m2 LBSO module.

Detailed breakdowns of 18 midpoint impact categories according to the ReCiPe method for LBSO module.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Environmental profile of a 1 m2 defect-engineered module.

Detailed breakdowns of 18 midpoint impact categories according to the ReCiPe method for defect-engineered module.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Comparative LCIA results among the six investigated modules.

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.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–45, Discussion, Tables 1–46 and references 1–34.

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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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