Here’s everything you need to know about solar panel recycling

Greenhouse gas emissions are the major culprit for the consistent rise of mean global temperature, leading to the phenomenon of Global Warming. It is the predecessor to unwanted climatic changes such as rising sea levels, heatwaves, tsunamis, floods, desertification, and much more.  There is a unanimous consensus that expanding solar production is the answer to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and battling the phenomenon of global warming.

More and more solar plants are being installed to produce clean and green energy. In 2019, 720 terawatt-hours of energy were produced by 46 million metric tons of solar panels. This figure equals 3% of the global electricity generation.

Solar panels have an average life of 25-30 years after which their production capacity decreases significantly. Due to their finite capacity to generate energy, a large number of panels end up as waste every day. While it is easy to discard them, disposing of them in landfills is not the most cost-effective and eco-friendly option.

The reason is that end-of-life solar panels contain multiple valuable materials that can be recovered and reused in the making of new panels. Panels also contain certain hazardous materials that cannot be allowed to leach into the ground. Hence, there is a growing need for recycling end-of-life solar panels.

In this article, let us explore the basics of solar panel recycling.

How Are Solar Panels Recycled? Understanding The Basics

solar panel recycling basicsMost crystalline-silicon solar panels are made of the following components:

  • Aluminum frame
  • Glass (silicon)
  • Copper wires
  • Silicon solar cells
  • Plastic junction box
  • Polymer layers as sealants

Most of these components can be recovered and are recyclable. Proper methods and techniques are already in place for the recycling of glass which comprises 75% of the solar panels. Aluminum, copper wire, and plastic junction can also be dismantled and recycled for further use.

  • Solar panels contain valuable and rare metals such as aluminum, tin, antimony, tellurium, gallium, and indium. These metals need to be recovered as well. Let us take a look at the different steps of the recycling process.

Recycling Process of Solar Panels

Different methods are used for recycling solar panels. The following basic steps are common to all these methods:

  1. Dismantling the solar panel and removing the frame and the junction box.
  2. Separating the glass and silicon wafer by subjecting them to thermal, mechanical, or chemical processes.
  3. Recovering specialty metals such as silver, tin, lead, copper by separating them from silicon cells. Chemical and electrical techniques are used for separation and purification.

Due to technical limitations and financial constraints, solar panel recycling is not being practiced on a wide scale. Efforts are being made to make the process more financially feasible. Glass, metal, and electronics are already recycled at a large scale. Proper methods and practices are in place to recover the maximum material.

  • The recyclable portion of the solar panel is subjected to crushing, shredding, and milling after removing the frame and junction box. The purpose of these processes is to recover glass, aluminum, and copper whereas silicon solar cells are incarcerated at a high temperature.

Thin-film cadmium-telluride solar panels have a different composition compared to crystalline-silicon solar panels. Their recycling process differs as well. When thin-film panels are recycled, additional steps are performed to recover the semiconductor material i.e. cadmium and tellerium along with glass and copper.

  • Solar panel recycling is the most financially-viable and eco-friendly way of disposing of solar panels. It not only reduces the load on landfills but also recovers valuable raw materials that cost thousands of dollars. PV2 Recycle offers the best large-scale solar panel recycling services which are compliant to all federal and state-level regulations. For more information, visit our website or write to us at info@pv2recycle.com

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