Solar cell recycling researcher visits Chalmers

​​For about a year Chalmers is reinforced by Professor Meng Tao from Arizona State University in Phoenix. Tao’s visit is funded by the Fulbright programme since he was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy Technology. One of his tasks will be to contribute to the research in Competence Centre Recycling (CCR) with his knowledge in solar cell technology and recycling. He is interested in solar cells from a holistic point of view with the goal set on making the solar cell the prime energy source of the future.
- I look holistically at the obstacles that stop solar cells from really reaching a meaningful scale. The roadblocks that I see include lack of raw materials, high energy consumption in the production phase, storage of intermittent energy, and lack of a recycling technology for solar cells. I therefore focus on these areas, says Meng Tao.
If you calculate how many solar cells it takes to produce the amount of energy needed to cover the global demands there is still not enough silver, which is an important metal as an electrode in most solar cells, for this to happen, according to Tao. In addition to making solar cells more efficient he believes in finding a way to replace silver with, for example, aluminium. Furthermore, terawatt-scale production of solar cells would take around half of the world’s electricity production of today, which would not be sustainable. Thirdly, for solar cells to really become a sustainable alternative they have to be recyclable. Meng Tao wants to collaborate with Chalmers to remove these and other obstacles by combining the research on recycling methods for solar cell materials that is being carried out at Chalmers and at his home university.

He will be positioned at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, but he is interested in research from all over Chalmers.
- One of the reasons I came to Chalmers is for the competence in recycling research that can be found in CCR, but I also look forward to getting to know more about the energy research that is going on here and also about the projects around electric vehicles that are conducted at the Swedish Electromobility Centre. Chalmers and my home university have much in common. We have strategic areas that correspond to Chalmers’s Areas of Advance, both by being platforms for different research disciplines but also because our themes overlap significantly. Our universities could gain a lot by collaboration, he says.
Britt-Marie Steenari is director of the competence centre CCR and will work together with Meng Tao much. She thinks it is very positive that he is here:
- We conduct research on metal recycling from solar cells. This research will benefit from Meng Tao’s experience. The mutual exchange will be that we have been working on different kinds of solar cells, and may therefor conduct comparative studies and system studies for solar power and energy storing and the material streams, she says.
She also sees possibilities for interesting collaborations with Meng Tao’s home university and expanding Chalmers’ network with other interesting researchers in materials recycling and solar cell materials.
Meng Tao’s choice to come to Chalmers is, to Britt-Marie Steenari, a very good thing, but not so surprising.
- Chalmers was early in seeing materials recycling as a necessary research area. Now it has happened. Many research groups are working with recycling research and development of processes, but the Chalmers Industrial Materials Recycling group is still one of the leading ones in that area. We often get invitations from other universities to participate in materials recycling projects. Chalmers not only host the chemical parts of recycling research, but also production technology, systems analysis, economics and organisation, and all that is needed for a well-functioning and sustainable recycling system. You find all this and more at Chalmers, she says. 
The strong research group in materials recycling that exists today at Chalmers is based on the initiative and donation from Stena Metall in 2007, which made way for the international impact of today and led to the collaboration with Meng Tao. He will work at Chalmers until the beginning of summer 2018.
 
Text and image: Mats Tiborn

Published: Tue 09 Jan 2018.