Journal article Open Access

CdTe Photovoltaics: Life-cycle environmental profile and comparisons

Fthenakis, Vasilis M.; Kim, Hyung Chul

We discuss the emissions of cadmium throughout all the life stages of CdTe PV modules, from extracting, refining, and purifying the raw materials to producing, using, and disposing or recycling of the modules. Then, we compare these emissions with those in the life cycle of three different types of crystalline Si PV modules. The energy requirement and energy pay back times (EPBT) of CdTe PV modules are considerably shorter than that of crystalline Si modules, although the latter exhibit higher efficiencies. This difference is primarily due to the energy used to process silicon, a fraction of which is derived from fossil fuels, inevitably producing Cd and many other heavy-metal emissions. The lower energy requirement of CdTe PV results in lower emissions of all pollutants, including cadmium.
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