Ways to Recycle Solar Panels

Solar Panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that plays an essential role in fighting climate change. They are a reliable source of energy that gets its power from the sun and can send electricity to our homes.

What Made Up Solar Panels

The primary component material in solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is crystalline silicon wafers. Silicon is used in the manufacturing of semiconductors for around 95% of all solar panels that are now available on the market. The remaining 5% of all solar panels depend on experimental and developing technologies such as organic photovoltaic cells. The semiconductors used in solar panels are what generate power.

How Long Does Solar Panel Last?

A solar panel’s lifetime may range from 10 to 25 years, which means the number of panels reaching the end of their lives is set to increase tremendously.

Disposing Solar Panels

Most people are aware that solar power is an energy source that, after panels are placed, produces no pollution or emits any greenhouse gases. Solar panel recycling, on the other hand, is something that many people are unfamiliar with. Many environmental advantages may be gained by using solar energy, but if solar panels are not properly recycled, they end up in landfills.

This is a major issue. Many dead PV panels are discarded in landfills, despite the fact that they contain dangerous chemicals like lead that might pollute the environment. While these materials may theoretically be utilized to manufacture new solar cells, they are now being thrown away.

There are a few different outcomes that may occur when solar panels expired and reach the end of their useful lives today. Solar panel manufacturers are obligated to guarantee that their products may be recycled in accordance with EU regulation.

Those who want to dispose of their solar panels in a more environmentally friendly manner have the option of recycling them. The bulk of the components of solar panels, including glass, plastic, aluminum, silicon, and metal, are recyclable.

The Recycling Process

There are two main kinds of solar panels, and they need to be recycled in different ways. Both kinds, those made from silicon and those made from thin films, can be recycled using different industrial processes. At the moment, silicon-based panels are more common, but that doesn’t mean that the materials of thin-film-based cells wouldn’t be very valuable.

Let’s take a closer look at the components of solar panels to have a better idea of what happens throughout the recycling process.

Crystalline silicon is the semiconductor material that is used in solar cells, and the United States Department of Energy reports that around 95 percent of the panels that are marketed today are made of crystalline silicon. Solar panels are constructed of linked PV cells that are enclosed in plastic, sandwiched between glass and a back sheet, and designed to resist decades of exposure to the elements in their unprotected state. The structure itself is held together by a metal frame, which is commonly composed of aluminum. On the other side of the panel is a junction box that houses the copper wire that extends beyond the enclosure.

Silicon Solar Panel Recycling

Silicon Solar Panel Recycling

The method used by a recycling facility to recycle silicon solar panels and reuse that material, which might include complicated technology to handle vast volumes of material and numerous rounds of mechanical and chemical separation to handle any hazardous waste.

The first step in the process of recycling photovoltaic (PV) panels that are based on silicon is to disassemble the real product and separate the glass and aluminum components. The glass may be reused almost entirely (95 percent), and all of the exterior metal elements are recycled for use in the process of re-molding cell frames. The remaining components are subjected to treatment in a thermal processing unit at temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius in order to relax the adhesion that holds the cell components together. The intense heat causes the plastic encasing the silicon cells to evaporate, leaving the silicon cells in a state where they may be further treated.

Following the application of the heat treatment, the PV cells that were previously linked are now mechanically separated. Eighty percent of them may be reused, but the other twenty percent need to go through certain additional processing steps before they can be used again.

The remaining product is improved to get more silicon out of it. Large pieces of silicon that are found here are melted down and used to make new PV panels. Acid is used to get rid of silicon that is broken up or in small pieces. About 85% of the silicon is reused or recycled as a whole.

Thin-Film Panel Recycling

Recycling thin-film solar panels is a more extreme process as compared to recycling silicon solar panels. After being put through a shredder first, the panels are then put through a hammermill until all of the particles are no more than 4-5 millimeters in size. Because the substance that is left behind is a combination of solid and liquid, a revolving screw is used to assist separate the two components.

To ensure purity, liquids from thin-film panels undergo a precipitation and dehydration process. The semiconductor materials are then separated by metal processing, with an average of 95% of the semiconductor material being accessible for reuse.

Solids from thin-film panels travel across a vibrating surface, which aids in the removal of interlayer materials. Then it passes through a rinse stage, leaving pure glass left, with an average of 90% of it ready for re-manufacturing.

To Wrap Up

Despite the fact that the existing solar panel recycling method is difficult and time-consuming, the solar industry is always working to improve the process. To handle the vast quantities of PV modules that will be discarded in the near future, a robust infrastructure for recycling solar panels must be built. Once this is in place, the economy will be able to take advantage of new opportunities.

As an alternative to exclusively recycling e-waste, we must also do all we can to limit the upcoming surplus. Reusing old solar panels and lowering energy use are two ways that the typical homeowner may contribute.