TotalEnergies PhD thesis: Regionalizing ecotoxicological characterization factors towards more reliable prospective impact assessment of photovoltaic systems


Position description

Function: PhD student

Contact type: CIFRE

Starting date: October2021

Duration: 36 months

Working place: IPVF (Paliseau) / Centre « Observation, Impacts, Energie » (O.I.E.). MINES ParisTech (Sophia Antipolis)

Education: Master 2



TotalEnergies in brief

TotalEnergies is a founding member of the Institut Photovoltaïque d’Île-de-France (IPVF), an institute of the Energy Transition, and is looking for support on the environmental assessment of photovoltaic tandem module development (specifically: perovskite on crystalline silicon) that is a key activity at IPVF.


IPVF in brief

Become an actor of the Energy Transition by joining a team driven by innovation and impact to address today’s most decisive challenges.

IPVF – Institut Photovoltaïque d’Île-de-France, is a global Research, Innovation and Education center, which mission is to accelerate energy transition through science & technology.
Gathering industrial PV leaders (EDF, TotalEnergies, Air Liquide, Horiba and Riber) and world-renowned academic research organizations (CNRS, Ecole Polytechnique), multi-disciplinary and international IPVF teams conduct research for clean energy technologies. Supported by the French State, IPVF is labelled Institute for Energy Transition (ITE).

IPVF at a glance:
• An ambitious Scientific and Technological Program (6 programs divided in 24 work packages): from tandem solar cell technologies to economy & market assessment, state-of-the art characterization, photocatalysis and breakthrough concepts.
• A state-of-the-art technological platform (8,000m²): more than 100 cutting-edge equipments worth €30M, located in cleanrooms (advanced characterization, materials deposition, prototypes for fabrication, modelling…).
• A high-standard Education program (M.S. and PhD students).


Centre “Observation, Impacts, Energie” (O.I.E) MINES ParisTech in brief

The Center “Observation, Impacts, Energy” (O.I.E.) is a joint Research Laboratory MINES ParisTech/ARMINES that focuses on energy. It addresses the temporal and spatial issues linked to renewable energy resources as well as to the environmental impacts of energy pathways.

MINES ParisTech trains high-level engineers and scientists since its foundation in 1783. Originally in charge of the training of civil engineers of Mines and of the Inspectors of Mines, the School has developed research and third cycle programs (specialized masters, PhDs) since the 1960s, linked to industry and international academics. MINES ParisTech is one of the founding members of ParisTech, and of PRES Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL Research University)

ARMINES is the first contractual research association in France and was created in 1967 as an initiative of the Ecole des Mines de Paris. It focuses on industry-oriented research.

MINES ParisTech and ARMINES are distinguished with the Institute Carnot label since 2006.


Job context

Harvesting energy from the sun using photovoltaic (PV) systems is among the most promising solutions for the transition towards a reduction of the carbon footprint of the electricity sector. Producing electricity from solar energy shows, indeed, two major advantages compared to using fossil resources. On the one hand, the energy source is renewable, and, on the other hand, operating the PV system, meaning producing electricity, does not emit any greenhouse gas (GHG) to the atmosphere. This latter point needs however to be put into perspective, since GHG emissions do not necessarily occur only during the operation phase. The production of the PV system but also its end of life can also potentially lead to GHG emissions. Although GHG emissions are particularly scrutinized nowadays in the context of climate change, other potential environmental impacts also need to be mitigated to reduce the anthropogenic pressure on ecosystems. In the case of PV systems, the use of metals during manufacturing potentially contributes to their depletion or impacts ecosystems or human health because of potential toxicity (Chatzisideris et al., 2016; Ibn-Mohammed et al., 2017).


Accounting for all potential environmental impacts of a technology over its entire life cycle is therefore essential to avoid replacing one environmental problem by another and ensuring a sustainable transition. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is currently the most common methodology to conduct such holistic and multi-criteria environmental assessment (Douziech et al., 2016; Hellweg and Mila i Canals, 2014). Despite its wide use, LCA is a young methodology with different potential areas of improvement (Hauschild, 2005). For example, applying LCA in the context of future energy technologies implies to account for prospective developments of the technology in itself, but also of the so-called background system affecting it (Mendoza Beltran et al., 2020). Another example of potential improvement relates to the impact assessment methodologies relying on models that can potentially be improved. In the case of ecotoxicity, several areas have been identified as requiring further developments. The case of metals is particularly relevant for PV systems (Life Cycle Initiative, 2019). In fact, current LCIA practices do not consider the influence of ambient chemistry in the calculation of their potential ecotoxicological impact, even though they are a major influencing factor (Dong et al., 2014; Verones et al., 2020).


The objective of this PhD thesis is to develop a methodology to conduct a prospective and regionalized LCA of photovoltaic systems by accounting for sources of uncertainty and variability (technological and methodological) and so increase the confidence in the LCA results. The regionalization aspect will hereby mostly focus on the ecotoxicological impact assessment of silicon and metals.


IPVF Research Program involving this PhD position: Program I



Chatzisideris, M.D., Espinosa, N., Laurent, A., Krebs, F.C., 2016. Ecodesign perspectives of thin-film photovoltaic technologies: A review
of life cycle assessment studies. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, Life cycle, environmental, ecology and impact analysis of solar technology 156, 2–10.

Dong, Y., Gandhi, N., Hauschild, M.Z., 2014. Development of Comparative Toxicity Potentials of 14 cationic metals in freshwater.
Chemosphere 112, 26–33.

Douziech, M., Hellweg, S., Verones, F., 2016. Are Wave and Tidal Energy Plants New Green Technologies? Environ. Sci. Technol. 50,

Hauschild, M.Z., 2005. Assessing Environmental Impacts in a Life-Cycle Perspective. Environ. Sci. Technol. 39, 81A-88A.

Hellweg, S., Mila i Canals, L., 2014. Emerging approaches, challenges and opportunities in life cycle assessment. Science 344, 1109–

Ibn-Mohammed, T., Koh, S.C.L., Reaney, I.M., Acquaye, A., Schileo, G., Mustapha, K.B., Greenough, R., 2017. Perovskite solar cells: An
integrated hybrid lifecycle assessment and review in comparison with other photovoltaic technologies. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 80, 1321–1344.

Life Cycle Initiative, 2019. Global guidance on environmental life cycle impact assessment indicators, Volume 2. United Nations
Environment Programme.

Mendoza Beltran, A., Cox, B., Mutel, C., Vuuren, D.P., Font Vivanco, D., Deetman, S., Edelenbosch, O.Y., Guinée, J., Tukker, A., 2020.
When the Background Matters: Using Scenarios from Integrated Assessment Models in Prospective Life Cycle Assessment. Journal of Industrial Ecology 24, 64–79.

Verones, F., Hellweg, S., Antón, A., Azevedo, L.B., Chaudhary, A., Cosme, N., Cucurachi, S., Baan, L. de, Dong, Y., Fantke, P., Golsteijn,
L., Hauschild, M., Heijungs, R., Jolliet, O., Juraske, R., Larsen, H., Laurent, A., Mutel, C.L., Margni, M., Núñez, M., Owsianiak, M., Pfister, S., Ponsioen, T., Preiss, P., Rosenbaum, R.K., Roy, P.-O., Sala, S., Steinmann, Z., Zelm, R. van, Dingenen, R.V., Vieira, M., Huijbregts, M.A.J., 2020. LC-IMPACT: A regionalized life cycle damage assessment method. Journal of Industrial Ecology 24, 1201–1219.


Main missions

Scientific objectives:

The overall goal of this PhD thesis is to develop a methodology that allows to take spatial specificities, such as differences in ambient chemistry, especially in the context of silicon and metal’s ecotoxicity, as well as prospective technological developments into account in the LCA of PV systems with a special focus on perovskite on silicon tandems.


The specific objectives are:
– To develop a life cycle impact assessment method allowing for regionalized ecotoxicological impact estimates of metals found in PV systems with a special focus on perovskite on silicon tandems
– To describe current and future PV systems by means of parameterized LCA models with a special focus on the end-of-life stage of the considered PV systems
– To evaluate the LCA of PV systems, focusing on the French context and applying the developed methodology and systems


Approach – Methods:

The PhD candidate will work on the development of the LCA methodology at two different levels. The first level relates to the life cycle inventory, where the candidate will develop parameterized models of the considered PV systems, applying a special focus on the end-of life stage. The second level is linked to the impact assessment, where the candidate will develop a method to spatially characterize the potential environmental impacts of metals used in the life cycle of the PV systems considered, namely perovskite on silicon tandem, and a single junction silicon as the reference PV system.


For the life cycle inventory, the candidate will start by settling on and get familiar with the PV systems to consider, then continue by identifying and describing the life cycle stages to be included in the LCA of the considered PV systems, before developing and describing end-of-life scenarios. The description of these systems will rely on parameters to ensure their flexibility and follow general principles of prospective LCA. Combined with currently available life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods, these inventories will allow prospective impact assessments of the considered PV systems.


The PhD candidate will go further than applying available LCIA methods by developing a regionalized characterized ecotoxicological impact assessment method for silicon and metals. The method will be operationalized for metals and silicon found in the considered PV systems, meaning that characterization factors will be developed, but will be generic enough to be applied in other contexts than PV systems which might use the same chemicals at some point of their life cycle (e.g., copper pipes, lithium-ion batteries). For this part, the PhD candidate will first review available ecotoxicological impact assessment methods for metals. In a second step, the PhD candidate will formulate strategies to improve the reliability and spatial representativity of the ecotoxicological LCIA method for metals. Finally, the PhD candidate will operationalize one or several of these strategies for the metals found in the considered PV systems to evaluate the case study(ies).


The PhD candidate will benefit from an industrial as well as academic environment to conduct his thesis, being supervised by a team from TotalEnergies/IPVF and a team from O.I.E.


Expected results:

This thesis will firstly, advance the knowledge on the prospective impacts of PV systems, including their end-of-life stage and secondly, improve the reliability of the ecotoxicological impact assessment of metals specifically in the context of PV systems by providing regionalized estimates. The application of this prospective and regionalized LCA methodology to specific PV systems in the French context will provide important decision-support material for the sustainable energy transition.




  • MSc in Environmental Sciences or equivalent
  • Motivation for research activity


  • LCA methodology and software – Brightway, openLCA, Simapro
  • Photovoltaic systems (tandem and PV waste management will be a plus)
  • Organic and inorganic chemistry, (potential ecotoxicological impacts of metals or behavior of compounds in the freshwater environment will be a plus)
  • Background on Applied Mathematics and Statistics
  • Good programming skills in Python but otherwise possible in Matlab or R


Soft skills

  • Scientific curiosity
  • Fluency in English, knowledge of French will be a plus
  • Good analytical, synthesis and communication skills
  • Capacity of adaptation and creative thinking
  • Teaching skills will be a plus




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