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Solar Panel Recycling

Solar Panel Recycling

Solar panel recycling is an investment in clean energy. Keep reading to learn about the importance of solar panel recycling and the economic benefits associated with an investment in the end-of-life management of solar panels.  

Investing in Solar Panel Recycling

Solar panel recycling is becoming essential as we are experiencing a shift towards renewable energy, and particularly solar energy. This shift is extremely necessary for the impending benchmarks for CO2 emissions. However, this movement towards renewable energy is accompanied by the potential for unsustainable disposal practices. If we plan to invest in solar energy, which we do, an investment in solar panel recycling is equally as important

There is little merit to investing in solar energy if enormous amounts of PV waste ends up in a landfill. Sustainability is NOT investing in one green technology and compromising for another 

Waste Projections

Currently, in the U.S, solar panel waste is considered general waste. In Europe, it is classified as e-waste. There, solar panel manufacturers must also follow legal recycling standards to effectively avoid future environmental damage. However, these regulations are not universal.

70% of solar panels have been installed in the past five years. This means that very few systems need to be disposed of currently, but this will not be the case at the end of the 25-to-30-year lifespan of the systems. With some basic calculationswe can project that these systems will reach the end of their lifespan beginning around 2040. Just like any future climate projections, this timeline sounds completely abstract to us. But large-scale technologies for solar panel recycling, and collaboration between solar designers and manufacturers, and government institutions must be developed now 

It is always important to quantify environmental impact, especially in figures that are comprehensible for the public. It is estimated that, by 2040, there will be 1,700,000 tons of PV waste. This figure aligns seamlessly with the earlier projection that a massive number of systems will need to be recycled by 2040 For some perspective, about 200 million tons of solid waste is produced annually in the US 

Solar Panel Recycling Process

The process of recycling solar panels is lengthy, and, in the US, it is more costly to recycle materials like silicon PV than it is to bring them to a landfill. As of 2017, up to 96% of solar panel parts can be recycled; however, it would be ideal to recycle 100% of the materials used in solar panels 

To salvage most of the materials, recycling centers must first disassemble the panel into glass and aluminum parts. At this point, 95% of the glass is recovered and all the external metal can be reused for molding new cell frames. The remaining parts are heated up to 500 degrees Celsius to separate cell components. Next, the silicon cells can be processed; the silicon particles, or wafers, are broken down with acid and 85% of the material is used to produce new solar panels 

A postive outlook

With effective solar panel recycling practices, it is possible to retain 11 billion dollars in value from recycled solar panels. Furthermore, 200 billion panels could be created with just recycled materials, totaling 630 gigawatts of renewable energy 

An investment in solar panel recycling from governmental organizations and manufacturers will divert waste from landfills, help finance the growth of the solar panel industry, and create green jobs 

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