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Brianna Tavolacci

Michigan State University, MS in Environmental Engineering

EREF Scholar 2023

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are increasing exponentially due to material advancements and cost reductions. With an expected operational life of 25 years, photovoltaic waste in the United States is estimated to reach 100 million tons by 2030. Recycling is the preferable end-of-life (EoL) management method. However, a lack of universal waste regulations may lead to landfill disposal. Crystalline silicon PVs dominate the market and primarily make up the future waste stream. Brianna’s research investigates the environmental toxicity of waste components of solar modules. Solar PV waste contains hazardous metals, such as lead and cadmium; thus, investigations on their potential release are required. Further, Brianna will also investigate microplastic release from solar modules in various environmental scenarios. Batch leaching procedures are performed to represent the dumping of PV waste in the environment. The leachates are tested for toxicity using bioassays via planktonic crustaceans, Daphnia Magna. Modules are then used in a landfill simulation column study to analyze the impact of recycling measures on waste before disposal. Standard recycling methods, such as aluminum frame and glass removal, expose the cell area and may allow for higher metallic leaching. This study will explore the effectiveness of recycling procedures by comparing the metal content of effluents. Due to the large volume of the anticipated waste stream, it is crucial to understand how waste will affect the environment under various disposal conditions.


Brianna is an MS student in the Environmental Engineering section of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Michigan State University (May 2022-Aug 2024). Her research focuses on the environmental toxicity of photovoltaic waste, in which bioassays are performed with planktonic crustaceans Daphnia Magna. She also works as a Teaching Assistant for the Introduction to Engineering Design course and leads K-12 outreach events teaching on the efficiency of photovoltaic modules. Brianna earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering at Central Michigan University (Sep 2017- Dec 2021), with a minor in Environmental Science. She also worked as an undergraduate lab assistant on the nutritional value of algal blooms for animal feed.