Managing Hazards in a Photovoltiac Research Facility

Nelson, Brent; Manno, Doug
(National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO)

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Photovoltaic (PV) devices, also known as solar cells, directly convert sunlight into electricity. Even though it was known since 1839 that shining light on an electrolytic cell increases electricity generation, it took until the early 1950’s before scientists at Bell Labs made the first PV devices that were capable of powering actual electronic devices. These early PV devices were made from crystalline silicon. The attractiveness of PV is the ability to generate electricity with a free “fuel” source—sunlight—that will be available on cosmological time scales and operationally produce no emissions. However, until recently, cost, reliability, and performance of PV devices have kept them from being competitive with traditional methods of electricity generation. The world production volume of PV manufacturing has more than doubled every two years for the past decade. Silicon continues to be the dominant material in PV manufacturing and the PV industry now processes more high purity silicon than the microelectronics industry. In the ever-continuing effort to make PV more competitive in the market place, many new material systems have been tried. To date, successful material systems include those based on gallium arsenide, amorphous silicon, copper-indium-gallium-selenide, cadmium telluride, organic, and die-sensitized materials. The National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) maintains research programs supporting PV applications in all these areas, as well as crystalline silicon. The environmental, health, and safety (EHS) hazards presented by these activities are very similar to those of the semiconductor industry, and codes applying to semiconductor facilities also apply to PV facilities. Flammable, pyrophoric, toxic and highly toxic, corrosive, nanoscale, and cryogenic materials are used in PV processes. A given PV manufacturing facility focuses on large volume production of a given technology and therefore may deal with a subset of these materials. As a research facility supporting all these technologies, NREL has to be able to manage the risks associated with all the PV technologies, albeit in much smaller quantities. The NREL EHS Office works proactively with researchers and management in the NCPV to ensure hazardous production materials are stored, dispensed, processed, and abated according to applicable codes, policies, and procedures. In this presentation we will present the framework for managing these hazards in a research environment where operations need to be flexible and adapt to new research areas. We will also illustrate differences between the types of engineering and administrative controls in a research facility to those in PV and semiconductor manufacturing.

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