The Disposal And Recycling Of PV Solar Panels

With the world still leaning heavily on non-renewable energy sources like coal, oil, and gas, it is vital that we embrace renewable energy for a sustainable future.

Solar power remains one of the more popular and most adopted forms of renewable energy, and, while we have made great steps in the development and installation of solar panels, it is equally important to find an efficient means of disposing of these modules.

Like batteries before them, energy cells can be chemically unstable when disused, so disposal through conventional means is not an option. For large solar modules, disposal can be especially impractical and unsafe. The Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) EU Directive was created to improve the environmental management of this equipment and to contribute to a circular economy. In doing so, the Directive sets out two methods that solar panels can be disposed of and recycled.

The silicon conundrum
The method which is used to dispose of and recycle a solar panel depends entirely on the presence of silicon in the module. Silicon is not a material that can be broken down using conventional recycling chemicals, so a different process is used to repurpose solar modules containing silicon.

Thermal or mechanical recycling?
Thermal recycling involves dismantling a whole solar panel by use of a chemical bath. According to Lisa Krueger in her research paper on solar recycling programs, up to 97% of the materials used in producing solar panels can be recycled and reused. Using a chemical bath to break these materials down ensures that the key properties of these materials remain untarnished. For this reason, only solar modules that do not contain silicon can be recycled in this way.

Mechanical recycling is a slightly untidier process, as the presence of silicon means that the panel has to be broken down manually — or at least by use of a machine. This is certainly a less scientific process than a chemical bath, but its efficiency is just as impressive. The glass panel is removed, ground, and resold, while the other materials can be either repurposed or reused to produce more solar panels.

How efficient is the recycling process?
The recycling process of solar modules is highly efficient, and it is estimated that a 40kg solar module can be recycled to reproduce over 39kg of clean, reusable materials. This is a very high rate, but could be improved even further through the development of a method to recycle silicon efficiently. While the silicon powder can be extracted during the recycling process, it cannot be repurposed in many cases due to the presence of other materials in the compound.

The future of solar
With EU member states being directed to switch to clean energy homes from as early as 2018, the public is being encouraged to consider solar power in their homes sooner rather than later. Despite the current government cutting solar panel subsidies by 65%, as reported by the Guardian, manufacturers are finding ways to incentivise the public to make their own decision now, before they are obligated to install solar panels on their homes. Renewable energy company BayWa r.e. Solar Systems offers realistic finance and funding options that will encourage homeowners to start reaping the benefits of solar energy.

Well established as a clean, efficient and recyclable form of energy, solar power continues to grow in strength. But with subsidy cuts not making the adoption of solar any easier, the industry must find their own ways to encourage home owners to get on board.


Tags: Solar Industry News