How can solar panels be recycled?

The majority of the market share for solar panels is held by crystalline-silicon technology. This kind of panel is made of silicon solar cells, a plastic junction box, polymer layers, copper wire, glass, and a back-sheet. Although the polymer layers protect the panel from the elements, they also make recycling and disassembling the panel challenging because high temperatures are frequently needed to remove the glue. Many of these parts are recyclable.About 75% of the weight of a solar panel is made up of glass, and recycling glass is a well-established business.

The copper cable, plastic junction box, and aluminum frame are additional easily recyclable materials. Other components found inside solar cells might be more challenging to recycle. Panels frequently contain relatively modest amounts of silver and internal copper, despite the fact that these minerals are valuable components. Solar panels might also contain harmful elements like lead and cadmium.

Critical elements such as gallium and indium, as well as aluminum, tin, tellurium, and antimony, may be included in solar panels. Inverters, racking, and battery backup systems are possible extra parts of a solar power system. These parts can all be recycled. Racking and inverters could both be recycled with similar scrap metals and electronic trash. Current battery recycling schemes could manage battery-based grid energy storage systems. 

Recycling Method

As much of the material from solar panels would be recovered as possible in the ideal recycling scheme. Solar panels can be recycled using a variety of techniques, some of which may involve all three of the following steps:

  • Removing the junction box and frame.
  • Thermal, mechanical, or chemical methods for separating the glass from the silicon wafer.
  • Chemical and electrical methods for separating and purifying the silicon cells from specialty metals like silver, tin, lead, and copper.

Researchers are exploring ways to commercialize recycling so that the majority of a solar panel's components can be profitably recovered in this young and expanding sector. Although there are parts of this recycling process in the United States, it is not currently taking place on a significant scale.  Glass, metals, and electronics recycling are well-established sectors that may recycle solar panels and other parts of solar power systems. 

The frame and junction box are often removed before engaging in these procedures, which commonly comprise crushing, shredding, and grinding. Glass, aluminum, and copper may be recovered via these procedures, while the remaining materials—including the silicon solar cells—may be burned. A distinct recycling procedure is used for thin film cadmium-telluride solar panels, which make up a smaller portion of the solar market. In addition to recovering the semiconductor material (cadmium and tellerium), at least one U.S. company operates dedicated recycling facilities for thin film panels. These facilities also recover glass and copper.

Reusing solar panels

Reusing solar panels is another approach to prevent them from ending up in landfills, either directly or after refurbishment. Solar panels that have been previously utilized can produce clean energy in a different place. Since the secondary market has not yet taken off in the United States, planning for the reuse of solar panels must take fire, construction, and electrical requirements into account as well as rules governing electrical grid connectivity. However, there are numerous advantageous ways solar panels could be utilized in circumstances where they are not connected to the electrical grid, such as rural places or electric vehicle or bike charging stations.

Prasun Barua

Prasun Barua is an Engineer (Electrical & Electronic) and Member of the European Energy Centre (EEC). His first published book Green Planet is all about green technologies and science. His other published books are Solar PV System Design and Technology, Electricity from Renewable Energy, Tech Know Solar PV System, C Coding Practice, AI and Robotics Overview, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Know How Solar PV System, Know The Product, Solar PV Technology Overview, Home Appliances Overview, Tech Know Solar PV System, C Programming Practice, etc. These books are available at Google Books, Google Play, Amazon and other platforms.


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