The new IDTechEx report "Toxicant Materials and Alternatives in Electronics/ Electrics 2018-2028" reveals a disturbing pipeline of potentially poisonous electronic and electrical devices being introduced every year for the next ten years. However, it also identifies many escape routes. Inorganic and organic materials are involved. Either way, a highly profitable multi-billion dollar opportunity awaits those companies developing and selling the safer alternatives, not just public acclaim and higher quality of earnings. By contrast, those offering and using materials that are poisonous or can break down to become poisons in use, abuse or on disposal have lower quality of earnings because they run the risk of them being banned in future. In other cases, the feared component gets designed out. See the IDTechEx report, "Battery Elimination in Electronics and Electrical Engineering 2018-2028".
IDTechEx finds that 6 of the 12 most popular active electric materials in its survey of planned new devices have toxic risk. Beyond those, consider carcinogenic heavy organic liquids such as chlorobenzene and toluene used for quantum dot and conductive ink solvents, where several safe alternatives exist from Solvay and others. Then there is the carcinogenic solvent acetonitrile in supercapacitors - flammable, volatile, associated with birth defects and breaks down to HCN when overheated and forms cyanide in the human body. This year, most supercapacitor suppliers prosper without it so why not all of them? The report reveals new clean ways of making graphene and hydrogen for use in electrics.
We hear a lot about nerve agents in the press but cadmium, lead and arsenic severely attack the central nervous system with no safe level. They accumulate in you and by some counts, there may be one million people dying from lead poisoning every year. Far more must be suffering. We read of the ancient Romans putting lead salts in their wine as a sweetener and using lead pipes but what about the lead perovskite windows and new forms of lead zirconate titanate piezoelectrics (60% lead) being introduced this year? Will there be controlled disposal when they are deployed in billions? We need something with no toxic by products by then and there is a great deal of research aimed at just that. Many new sensors will have potentially poisonous materials but the report reveals better alternatives coming along. In healthcare, some carbon nanotubes reduce biocompatibility and can be surface irritants but alternatives are being researched. Large redox flow batteries are used in many static applications and vanadium salts in them can be a concern but researchers believe polyoxometalates may be an escape route.
Some QLED television uses cadmium-based quantum dots and now the UK, not just the USA, has cadmium telluride photovoltaics on sale and it is being developed for solar windows as well. Gallium arsenide solar bodywork promised on cars in 2020 will be a big breakthrough because they will never need to plug in. Hanergy will produce the first such cars and the photovoltaics and they have licensed the process to Audi. It gives up to 1kW per kg and almost all of that weight is non-toxic plastic substrate. Hanergy told IDTechEx that California accepts such minimal quantities in landfill. Indeed, in many of the above examples, the poison is only released if the compound is burnt - as when Africans burn PVC clad cable to get the copper and receive nerve agent dioxin in their noses as well.
Cheeringly, the report reveals many safer alternatives available now or being developed and observes that these have huge commercial potential.
Raghu Das of IDTechEx advises, "They deserve more publicity and funding. With the prospect of 1MW from the windows of a high rise, there will be billions solar windows around. Where heavy metal solar concentrators are used, minimally toxic CuInSeS quantum dots can also provide a uniform coverage of the solar spectrum, thus adding only a neutral tint to a window without introducing any distortion to perceived colors. In addition, their near-infrared emission is invisible to a human eye, but at the same time works well with solar cells based on silicon. As for the solar cells themselves, Lightyear of the Netherlands and Sion Motors of Germany are launching solar cars soon which be lower cost, non-toxic and somewhat less capable than GaAs ones because they use single crystal silicon bodywork. For most people a little plugging in will be needed but start up Sion has over 1300 paid pre-orders for these cars already: a failure? No."