Environmental impacts of copper‑indium‑gallium-selenide (CIGS) photovoltaics and the elimination of cadmium through atomic layer deposition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Thin-film technologies have been part of the rapidly-expanding solar photovoltaics (PV) market for many years, led by cadmium-telluride (CdTe) and copper‑indium‑gallium-selenide (CIGS). However, their environmental impacts remain largely unknown, particularly considering state-of-the-art CIGS manufacturing techniques. This study estimates the life cycle environmental impacts of CIGS PV installations in the UK and Spain, including balance-of-system components, using real manufacturing data. It also analyses newly-developed CIGS, replacing the cadmium sulphide (CdS) buffer layer with zinc oxysulphide (Zn(O,S)) via atomic layer deposition (ALD). The results show that UK installations have 72% higher impacts than those in Spain, including climate change (25.1 vs 14.6 g CO2 eq./kWh). The inverter and electrical components are the main contributors (46% on average), followed by the PV modules (41%). In comparison to CdTe, mono-Si and multi-Si PV, CIGS has 6%–90% lower impacts in 16 out of 18 categories, including climate change (16%–50% lower). However, metal depletion is five times higher, and land use 12%–31% greater. The replacement of CdS has a small but positive effect, demonstrating that cadmium can be eliminated from the CIGS life cycle without environmental penalties. These results will be of interest to PV manufacturers and policy makers, indicating improvement opportunities and areas for policy intervention.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date23 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019