Ecotoxicological assessment of solar cell leachates: Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells show higher activity than organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells

Sci Total Environ. 2016 Feb 1;543(Pt A):703-714. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.11.074. Epub 2015 Dec 7.


Despite the increasing use of photovoltaics their potential environmental risks are poorly understood. Here, we compared ecotoxicological effects of two thin-film photovoltaics: established copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells. Leachates were produced by exposing photovoltaics to UV light, physical damage, and exposure to environmentally relevant model waters, representing mesotrophic lake water, acidic rain, and seawater. CIGS cell leachates contained 583 μg L(-1) molybdenum at lake water, whereas at acidic rain and seawater conditions, iron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, cadmium, silver, and tin were present up to 7219 μg L(-1). From OPV, copper (14 μg L(-1)), zinc (87 μg L(-1)) and silver (78 μg L(-1)) leached. Zebrafish embryos were exposed until 120 h post-fertilization to these extracts. CIGS leachates produced under acidic rain, as well as CIGS and OPV leachates produced under seawater conditions resulted in a marked hatching delay and increase in heart edema. Depending on model water and solar cell, transcriptional alterations occurred in genes involved in oxidative stress (cat), hormonal activity (vtg1, ar), metallothionein (mt2), ER stress (bip, chop), and apoptosis (casp9). The effects were dependent on the concentrations of cationic metals in leachates. Addition of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid protected zebrafish embryos from morphological and molecular effects. Our study suggests that metals leaching from damaged CIGS cells, may pose a potential environmental risk.

Keywords: Gene expression; Photovoltaic; Risk assessment; YES; Zebrafish embryo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acid Rain
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Gallium / toxicity*
  • Indium / toxicity*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seawater
  • Selenium / toxicity*
  • Solar Energy*
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Acid Rain
  • gallium selenide
  • Indium
  • Copper
  • Gallium
  • Selenium