According to a report by the Institute for Energy Research, only about 0.2% of the power that’s used in U.S. households comes from solar energy. The most surprising bit about this information is the fact that this number is actually an improvement from past figures!
In any case, there are a number of chemicals involved in the operation and efficiency of solar collectors and we’re going to tell you what they are and just how they work.
Hydrochloric Acid, Copper, Trichlorosilane Gas and Silicon Waste
Silicon is what’s used as a semiconductor for PV cells. Now, silicon is a natural, organic material that’s excavated from the Earth in the form of sand or quartz. From its original form, it’s then processed at very high temperatures in order to remove the oxygen and leave behind metallurgical grade silicon that’s 99.6% pure.
Unfortunately, you need a 100% purity score in order to use silicon as a semiconductor, which is why silicon that’s known as metallurgical grade must be purified through a second process that involves chemicals like hydrologic acid and copper.
Once the silicon has been mixed with these chemicals, trichlorosilane gas is created, and that’s further reduced into silane gas using hydrogen. Next, the silane gas is burned in order to produce molten silicon, and that turns into silicon crystals that are ready to be used in the creation of PV cells.
Aside from the silicon production process detailed above, cadmium has to be brought in in order to produce the cadmium telluride thin film part of PV cells.
Cadmium is created by smelting metals like copper, zinc or lead ore.
Exposure to cadmium or inhalation can result in lung and general organ damage, and it even has cancerous effects in some circumstances.
Nitrogen Trifluoride and Sulfur Hexafluoride
Solar energy is often considered to be “green” because it doesn’t release any greenhouse gases when converting solar power into electricity.
However, a little-known secret is that the production of solar panels is responsible for the release of nitrogen trifluoride, a chemical whose toxicity level is 17,000 times more than that of carbon dioxide. Of course, manufacturers are trying to contain these gasses but leaks do happen from time to time.
There are also solar panels whose production leads to the release of Sulfur hexafluoride, which is 22,800 times stronger than CO2.
Copper Indium Selenide and Copper Indium Gallium (di)selenide
According to a report by Stanford Magazine, previous solar panel models used chemicals like copper indium gallium (di)selenide and copper indium selenide which were found to be extremely toxic to workers. As such, most manufacturers are choosing to no longer use them in order to eliminate the risks that they come with.
The Importance of Chemicals
While the chemicals used in the production of solar panels are very important to making a cleaner and more efficient product, they can also be quite toxic to the environment and the workers who make them. Panels that are made using these toxic chemicals can potentially release these chemicals into the environment once they pass their sell-by date, which is why it’s so important for manufacturers to proceed with caution when using chemicals in their production processes in order to avoid these risks as much as possible.