Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a way of converting old car batteries into long-lasting, low-cost solar panels.

The materials recycled from one car battery, which include a compound called perovskite, could potentially produce enough solar panels to power 30 homes.

"Perovskite solar cells (PSCs) show great promise as a new large-scale and cost-competitive photovoltaic technology," researchers wrote in a paper describing the technique.

"The power conversion efficiencies have achieved over 15% within 18 months of development, and thus perovskite materials have attracted great attention in photovoltaic research."

Currently, the manufacture of PSCs relies on the production of raw lead ore, which raises environmental concerns due to the harmful ecological effects brought about by the methods of production.

The use of recycled car batteries also addresses the problem of disposing of lead-acid batteries. As such batteries are retired in favour of more efficient lithium-ion batteries, lead batteries pose a pollutant risk to the environment.

"Once the battery technology evolves, over 200 million lead-acid batteries will potentially be retired in the United States, and that could cause a lot of environmental issues," said Angela Belcher, W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT and co-author of the study.

Solar panels produced using this new method encapsulate the lead-containing layer, further reducing the risk of lead contamination of the environment.

Yang Yang, a professor at the University of California not involved in the study, said: "Wow, what an interesting paper, that turns the waste of one system into a valuable resource for another.

"I think the work demonstrated here can resolve a major issue of industrial waste and provide a solution for future renewable energy."