Solar panels are known as PV panels which can convert sunlight into energy for various applications. Because of the environmentally friendly power, people are aware of the benefits solar power system contributes to our communities.
Renewable, clean energy mitigates the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, promotes local economies, saves users’ money, and requires lower maintenance fees than other types of energy.
In many countries, the recycling process of solar panels is not correctly carried out. The process itself is quite complicated and takes more than disassemble the components. If not done right, the cost of recycling will be more expensive than producing a new one.
This article will look at why and how retired solar panels need to be recycled.
Why is the Recycling Important?
In the United States, 53GW of solar capacity was deployed at the beginning of 2018. If we assume the average wattage of each installed solar module was 250W, the total weight of all deployed solar panels will be equivalent to the weight of 122 Empire State Buildings. Therefore, it is critical to implement solar panel recycling processes to safeguard the environment.
Typically, the lifespan of solar panels is between 25 to 30 years. As the usage of solar panels increases, the number of wastes from broken solar panels also grows.
A study was done by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimating the waste from solar panel accounts for 10% of the total electronic waste in the world by 2050.
For some countries today, about 90% of solar panels end up in landfills as all e-waste. If we go on this way, they may leach toxic chemicals into the ground and water supply.
Imagine the detrimental effects on the environment if people don’t take care of this enormous amount of retired solar panels. One statistic data showed that cadmium telluride solar panels leached almost 62% of their cadmium into the water after only one year.
Luckily, solar panels are mostly made from recycled or reused materials. Materials like glass and some specific metals make up 80% of solar panels’ structure.
Some electronic components and polymers are also available for recycling. There are many incentives for recycling solar panels:
- Lower the adverse effects on the environment
- Keeping toxic e-waste away from lands and water supplies
- Other economic benefits
How Does Solar Panels Recycling Work?
Can solar panels be recycled? Yes, the main components of silicon solar panels are glass, plastic, and metals which can be recycled independently in mass quantities. Despite the recyclability of solar modules, the real challenge is separating the components efficiently, which requires advanced machinery.
Some parts of solar panels must first be separated in the recycling process, including the cable, junction box, and frame. Silicon panels are often be crushed by machines and mechanically separated.
At this point, the materials are sent to different recycling processes based on their classification. A chemical separation process is needed after the mechanical segmentation. This step removes the polymer layer from the glass and semiconductor materials.
Alternatively, components like silver, copper, aluminum, silicon, glass, and insulated cable are treated through a thermal process. The thermal process makes small plastic components and cells evaporate at 500 degrees Celsius. Finally, etching away silicon wafers and smelting them into reusable slabs.
Countries with Advanced Recycling Process
In the United States, because of the labor-intensive and the cost of the recycling process, most solar panels end up in landfills. Most of the recycling processes are done at glass recycling plants.
Moving to Europe, we see regulatory mandates for dedicated solar recycling centers. In 2012, the European Union issued the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive. This order requires any e-waste to be recycled to protect human health and the environment.
Other countries, such as India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, are currently developing guidance and mandates for solar panel recycling. We all need to learn from Europeans regarding solar panels recycling and try to develop better recycling programs.
Here at nRuiT, our solar panels last beyond their 25-year lifespan and still can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the long-term success of our solar industry relies on reliable solar modules recycling process.
nRuiT is one of the leading energy battery storage manufacturers. We offer customized solutions for residential users worldwide. Our solar energy storage system can provide continuous power 24/7 and grid independence.
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