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Environment: Plant uptake of lead from solar cells assessed

Nature Communications

January 22, 2020

Lead from perovskite solar cells can enter some plant species 10 times more effectively than other lead contaminants present in the soil as a result of human activity. The findings are reported in an analysis this week in Nature Communications.

Hybrid lead halide perovskites make efficient solar cells. Although calculations show that the amount of lead in the perovskite thin films is lower than 0.1% by weight - below the safety limit imposed by many countries - the environmental impact is unclear.

Antonio Abate and colleagues measured the ability of mint, chilli and cabbage plants grown in lead-based perovskites contaminated soil in the laboratory to absorb this element. They found that the lead from perovskites is 10 times more bioavailable than other sources of lead contamination. In a separate series of experiments, they found that if lead was replaced with tin in these cells, this resulted in levels of tin uptake below the maximum tolerable levels proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The authors suggest that a more systematic screening of the environmental impact of different perovskite compositions should be conducted before the large scale deployment of these materials.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-13910-y

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