To determine if there are potential concerns related to the environmental end-of-life impacts of photovoltaic (PV) or quantum-dot display (QD) technologies, the goal of this study was to assess the magnitude of heavy metal leaching using simulated landfill methodologies from devices in an attempt to forecast the lifecycle environmental impacts of subsequent generations QD-enabled PV technologies. The underlying hypotheses are (H1) existing PV and QD thin-film technologies do not release heavy metals at concentrations exceeding RCRA or State of California regulatory limits, and (H2) the disposal of PV and QD thin-film technologies does not exceed Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR). Three task-oriented objectives were completed: (O1) Five representative PV panels and two representative thin-film displays with QD technology were obtained from commercial sources. (O2) RCRA Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) tests and California Waste Extraction Tests (WET) were conducted in addition to microwave-assisted nitric acid digestion. (O3) Results were compared to the existing regulatory limits to examine the potential environmental end-of-life concerns. The heavy metal concentrations obtained from PV panels and QD thin-film displays when exposed to simulated landfill environments and extreme case leaching scenarios were generally several orders of magnitude lower than the promulgated standards and probably not of major concerns related to end-of-life safe disposal of these commercially available products. With exception to the findings for lead under the RCRA rules, the results confirmed that PV and QD thin-film technologies do not release heavy metals at concentrations exceeding RCRA or State of California characteristic hazardous waste regulatory limits. However, lead, mercury, and potentially other heavy metal releases have to be monitored to ensure that the disposal of this type of waste is in compliance with RCRA's LDR requirements and universal treatment standards because the second underlying hypothesis could not be completely supported for the leaching of these heavy metals. It could be anticipated that newer and more sophisticated soldering materials and approaches in the next generation of PV panels would significantly reduce the use of RCRA heavy metals or nanomaterials. However, although the generated data is limited to these representative PV and QD technologies and as such should not be considered applicable to the entire gamete of present-day technologies, these findings suggest that their release from future PV QD technologies would likely be greater from non-end-of-life processes than from traditional land disposal routes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9369-9374
Number of pages6
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2 2018


  • Land disposal
  • Nanoparticles
  • Photovoltaic panels
  • TCLP
  • Thin films
  • WET

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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