Here’s a clever technological breakthrough that could help the environment in two ways. MIT announced this week that some of its researchers have figured out a way to make solar cells using parts from discarded car batteries that would otherwise have simply gone to waste. Essentially, the researchers have figured out how to extract lead from old car batteries and use it as a component in solar cells that they say are just as efficient as solar cells produced with “high-purity, commercially available starting materials.”

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Solar technology researchers right now are putting a lot of effort into using perovskites as the basis for high-efficiency solar cells. However, it’s been found that the most efficient perovskite-based solar cells contain lead. This is problematic for the environment since lead mining can be energy intensive and can result in toxic vapors being released into the atmosphere. This was why researchers at MIT began to think of sources of lead that wouldn’t require new mining. It seems that older car batteries are the perfect resource and that recycled lead doesn’t perform any worse in solar cells than newly mined lead.

Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT, says that she and her colleagues have perfected an incredibly simple way to extract lead from old car batteries that involves opening up a car battery and scraping lead off the battery’s electrodes. You shouldn’t try to do this yourself, however, as MIT notes that “opening a battery is extremely dangerous due to the sulfuric acid and toxic lead inside it.”

You can watch a video of how their process works below:

To get a more detailed technical explanation for how these researchers are using old car batteries to make solar cells, check out the full news release at this link.

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