MIT turns dirty old lead batteries into clean solar panels

Some 200 million unwanted toxic car batteries could be heading for landfill unless we can find another use for them.

MIT researchers are developing a system that could recycle old car batteries into long-lasting solar panels.

The system is based on recent developments in solar cell technology using a compound called perovskite — a crystalline substance that the US engineers organisation IEEE describes as the "new black" in solar research.

"All the cool solar-cell scientists are working on perovskite photovoltaics," it says. And well they might. Perovskite-based photovoltaic cells have achieved power-conversion efficiency of more than 19% – the same sort of range of commercial silicon-based solar cells.

Until now the lead content in the most efficient perovskite materials has been seen as a disadvantage and scientists have been searching for alternatives.

But recycling lead from old batteries might be a game-changer that also helps us avoid a potential environmental disaster.

MIT says that advances in battery technology which are seeing a shift to new technology such as lithium-ion batteries could lead to 200 million lead-acid batteries "retired" to landfill in the coming years. If they can be recycled to produce clean energy it would be a win-win.

The new system makes perovskite photovoltaic film just half a micrometer thick, which means the lead from a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to provide power for 30 households.

It is described in a paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, co-authored by professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond, graduate student Po-Yen Chen, and three others.

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