Here is the ultimate guide for beginners – How are solar panels recycled?
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that the collective value of recoverable raw materials from solar panel recycling in 2030 will be worth around 450 million $. This is the amount of money that is required to create 60 million new solar panels. Solar panels that are not recycled end up in landfills which further deteriorate the environment. Through a collective effort, solar panel recycling can help save the environment from unnecessary waste. Read more below to know how exactly are solar panels recycled.
What Solar Panel Components Can Be Recycled?
Modern-day solar panels are of two main types: Crystalline-silicon based and thin film-based solar panels. Crystalline-silicon-based solar panels dominate the market share and are widely used everywhere around the world. A typical solar panel will consist of the following components:
- Silicon solar cells
- Aluminum and metal frames
- Electrical wiring and plastic junction box
Glass makes up about 75 percent weight of a solar panel, and glass recycling is an already established industry. Similarly, aluminum and metal frames can be repurposed after recycling. Plastic and related components are used as fuel in the cement industry. Whatever components that cannot be recycled are converted into dust and then used in the construction industry.
- If the solar panels include inverters, backup systems, and batteries then they are recycled as electronic waste. Sometimes the leftover components are used as scrap.
What Is The Solar Panel Recycling Process?
- The first step usually employed by a solar recycling company is to assess the condition of the solar panel. Usually, solar panels cannot last for more than 20-30 years after which their efficiency and power output decline. If the solar panel is still within its useful life, then it will be repurposed to power a small off-grid application. These applications can include powering street lights, water pumps, irrigation systems, or charging a bike station.
Solar panels usually have polymer layers between their components such as solar cells, aluminum frames, and glass sheets. These polymer layers make the solar panel water and dustproof. To disassemble a solar panel for recycling, these polymer layers are broken up by exposing them to extremely high temperatures.
- The next step in a solar panel disassembly involves the removal of the aluminum frame and the junction box. The glass and silicon wafers are separated through mechanical, thermal, or chemical processes. In the last step, a special separation process is used to isolate precious metals and elements.
Depending on the general condition of the solar panels, a decision is made to either recycle them mechanically or chemically. If the solar panels are damaged to a greater extent or are burnt then they will be mechanically recycled. If they are not visibly damaged and their components seem intact then a chemical recycling process will be used.
Difference Between Mechanical And Chemical Recycling
- The mechanical recycling process involves crushing and breaking down a solar panel into its components. After disassembling the solar panel, its components such as glass, silicon, and wiring are ground to produce a mixture known as glass cullet which is then used as a building material.
The chemical recycling process utilizes chemical reactions and heating to separate the individual components of a solar panel. This process is time-consuming, and if done correctly can provide a greater yield of individual components and elements which can then be used elsewhere.
- If you are interested in playing your part and getting your solar panels recycled, then get in touch with PV2 Recycle today. We at PV2 Recycle are one of the best solar recycling specialists. Contact us today at email@example.com and let us help you recycle your solar panels.