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Comparative alternative materials assessment to screen toxicity hazards in the life cycle of CIGS thin film photovoltaics


Copper-indium-gallium-selenium-sulfide (CIGS) thin film photovoltaics are increasingly penetrating the market supply for consumer solar panels. Although CIGS is attractive for producing less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil-fuel based energy sources, CIGS manufacturing processes and solar cell devices use hazardous materials that should be carefully considered in evaluating and comparing net environmental benefits of energy products. Through this research, we present a case study on the toxicity hazards associated with alternative materials selection for CIGS manufacturing. We applied two numeric models, The Green Screen for Safer Chemicals and the Toxic Potential Indicator. To improve the sensitivity of the model outputs, we developed a novel, life cycle thinking based hazard assessment method that facilitates the projection of hazards throughout material life cycles. Our results show that the least hazardous CIGS solar cell device and manufacturing protocol consist of a titanium substrate, molybdenum metal back electrode, CuInS₂ p-type absorber deposited by spray pyrolysis, ZnS buffer deposited by spray ion layer gas reduction, ZnO:Ga transparent conducting oxide (TCO) deposited by sputtering, and the encapsulant polydimethylsiloxane.

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