Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Hazards associated with photovoltaic cell manufacturing

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This interesting and useful report outlines the environmental, toxicological, and health implications of the toxic chemicals involved in the manufacturing of semiconductor photovoltaic devices.

Of course, those solar cells on your roof aren’t deadly, but if we want to talk about solar photovoltaics with the same whole-of-life-cycle analysis and exceptionalist attitude that opponents of nuclear power use, then it must all be considered.

Hazardous materials encountered in photovoltaic technology include Arsine and other Arsenic compounds (extremely toxic and carcinogenic), Cadmium compounds (cumulatively toxic heavy metal), Copper, Lead (cumulatively toxic heavy metal), Diborane, Germane (Germanium hydride) (toxic and flammable), Carbon Tetrachloride (Carcinogenic, ozone depleting and highly toxic), Hydrogen Sulfide (highly toxic), Hydrofluoric acid (extremely toxic and corrosive), Indium compounds (toxic), Hydrogen Selenide (highly toxic), Nitric acid, Selenium compounds, Phosphorus Oxychloride, Sodium Hydroxide, Tellurium compounds, Phosphine (extremely toxic), Silane, Silicon Tetrafluoride (toxic and corrosive)

Of course, most of these materials are handled in industry routinely, with no grave safety implications. But if Nuclear Exceptionalism was applied to this technology, can you imagine what they’d say?

Written by Luke Weston

August 6, 2007 at 2:30 am

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