Addressing the toxicity of electronic waste

Problem Title

Addressing the toxicity of electronic waste

Scientific Title

Creating a protocol to determine end-of-life breakdown products and toxicity of organic photovoltaic materials in landfill conditions

Student: 
Balaj Rai
Major(s): 
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
iCons Concentration: 
Biomedicine/Biosystems
iCons Class Year: 
Class of 2014
Executive Summary 

I am establishing a cost-effective and efficient method that researchers can employ in the early stages of the material synthesis process to determine the toxicity of the breakdown products created through organic photovoltaic (OPV) material degradation in landfills. Due to rapidly emerging climate and global energy problems, researchers are working to create more efficient ways to harness solar power through the use of OPV materials. Unfortunately, these new, flexible and more cost-effective materials can often result in the creation of toxic end-of-life products due to photodegradation and biodegradation in landfills.

Using artificial intelligence based software provided by MultiCASE Inc, I plan to create a protocol that can help researchers predetermine the toxicity of new organic materials so we can implement a truly clean method to harness natural energy. First, I will test the viability of the Metabolism and Biodegradation Expert System (META) software by comparing the accuracy of the software's degradation product predictions to previously experimentally determined photodegradation and biodegradation end products. Using this information, I will then test the toxicity of the intermediates as well as the end products using the Case Ultra software, which relies on quantitative structure–activity relationship (QSAR) descriptors to determine bioactivity and toxicity.

If the preliminary findings show that the MultiCASE programs are a viable alternative to simulating landfill conditions and testing toxicity, then I will implement my protocol on newer and more efficient OPV materials found through the Harvard Clean Energy Project Database (CEPDB). If the experiment shows favorable results, this protocol can serve as a checkpoint in the synthesis of new organic materials while reducing the hazards posed by today's electronic waste. Furthermore, the research community will be able to see the potential and importance of prediction programs as a way to reduce unnecessary experiments. Through this protocol, I will introduce a new way for researchers to determine the adverse biological and environmental end-of-life impacts of newly emerging materials especially during the developmental stages of OPVs.

Problem Keywords: 
electronic waste
solar
toxicity
Scientific Keywords: 
life-cycle analysis
organic photovoltaics