Solar has a useful life of half a century, and is such a new industry that we’ve yet to see much end-of-life recycling, but it is a responsibility that must be addressed as time goes on. “And what do we do when they start to fail? Silicon Based Solar Panel Recycling. “It’s on the order of a 10-to-1 ratio.”. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/first-solar-solar-panel-recycling-program (480) 482-7050 Recycling solar panels is a topic which will be a lot more prevalent as the initial ‘wave’ panels begin to reach their end of life. Even its strongest advocates admit that economical recycling of solar panels is at least two decades away, while reusing deteriorating solar panels can be likened to giving your teenager a $500 car… Additionally, Veolia, a French water and waste company, opened Europe’s first solar panel recycling plant in 2018. Washington state is taking an even more proactive approach: last year, it passed legislation that requires solar panel manufacturers to have a recycling plan for their products. We Recycle Solar's solar panel recycling program helps you to achieve maximum value recovery with our certified, secure solutions for recycling solar panels. Most notably, Washington state, under the leadership of Governor Jay Inslee, … After recycling silicon solar panels 100% of the metal, 85% of the silicon modules are given new lives in other products or to make other solar panels. this avoids extra costs as a result of unnecessary sorting, Does Your House Qualify for Solar? The advantage of creating a PV-specific recycling technique is that this avoids extra costs as a result of unnecessary sorting, and it also avoids contaminating the panels with other materials, by using the wrong process when solar PV is recycled by traditional recyclers, adding extra steps to the process. As is the case with recycling, the EU is out in front on this: Through its Circular Business Models for the Solar Power Industry program, the European Commission is funding a range of demonstration projects showing how solar panels from rooftops and solar farms can be repurposed, including for powering ebike charging stations in Berlin and housing complexes in Belgium. How AR is Enhancing Human Connectivity During COVID-19. That figure includes solar panels that have reached the end of their life but also those that were decommissioned early because they were damaged during a storm, had some sort of manufacturing defect, or got replaced with a newer, more efficient model. Veolia, which runs the world’s only commercial-scale silicon PV recycling plant in France, shreds and grinds up panels and then uses an optical technique to recover low-purity silicon. In a next step the recovered materials can be further refined, using both chemical and mechanical techniques. From 2010 to 2019, net summer solar PV power capacity in the U.S. alone grew from 393 MW to 35,571 MW, according to the EIA. The number of solar panels reaching end of life in Europe doubles every year; 35,000 metric tonnes of solar panel e-waste is expected in 2020 alone. Thankfully back in 2014 the pair from Solar Maintenance and Renewable Technologies (SMART), Clive Fleming and David Galloway recognised the lack of solar panel recycling processes in Australia and have worked together to launch Reclaim PV Recycling. All rights reserved. Vanderhoof, meanwhile, says that the cost of recycling that panel in the US is between $12 and $25—after transportation costs, which “oftentimes equal the cost to recycle.” At the same time, in states that allow it, it typically costs less than a dollar to dump a solar panel in a solid-waste landfill. A solar panel is essentially an electronic sandwich. When these panels enter landfills, valuable resources go to waste. A surprising variety of materials can be extracted from old solar, according to PV CYCLE. As of mid 2014 there was already around 8 million tonnes of solar panels installed that will one day need to be recycled. Photovoltaic panels are a boon for clean energy but are tricky to recycle. Solar panels can be recycled but the cost of recycling is generally more than the economic value of the material recovered. These kinds of quantities won’t be recyclable without companies preparing now by setting a standard for the industry. The plant’s supply is provided through a contract with the solar recycling organization PV Cycle France. Tao and his colleagues estimate that a recycler taking apart a standard 60-cell silicon panel can get about $3 for the recovered aluminum, copper, and glass. For now, the future of solar panel recycling is in the hands of the states. In France, 53,000 tonnes of end-of-life solar panels wound up on the waste market in 2016 and 84,000 tonnes in 2017. Averting A Waste Crisis – For Planet And Profit. The EU model of having producers finance the take-back and recycling of solar panels might be a good one for the U.S. to emulate. Contrarily, Si-based panels are poor of valuable materials, and their recycling cost is always higher than the landfilling one, making recycling an unfavorable economic option . Wired may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. The rest, he says, go to landfills or are exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections. Almost all (95%) of the glass can be reused, while all external metal parts are used for re-molding cell frames. Strategies for recycling of solar panels Date: July 16, 2020 ... Based on their findings, the authors recommend research and development to reduce recycling costs … But we’ll need to develop one soon, because the solar e-waste glut is coming. The European Union requires solar companies to collect and recycle their panels, with the cost of recycling built into the selling price. In subsequent steps the individual materials are further refined. “If we don’t mandate recycling, many of the modules will go to landfill,” said Arizona State University solar researcher Meng Tao, who recently authored a review paper on recycling silicon solar panels, which comprise 95 percent of the solar market. While solar panels currently make up just a small amount of e-scrap, the need for solar panel disposal will rise dramatically over the next few decades as projects being built today reach the end of their useful lives. The firm already receives a trickle of panels, in cases where panels were damaged during delivery or installation, or were factory seconds, which accounts for 99% of their recycling. In fact, the recycling process, the cost of technologies, and the materials used in solar cells play a significant role in the percentage of recycled PV cells. Some PV researchers want to do even better than that. Ad Choices, Solar Panels Are Starting to Die, Leaving Behind Toxic Trash. The very few first solar panels were manufactured in the 1970s, and for the most part, these very early solar pioneers have not yet dismantled their old solar arrays that are still producing after 45 years. And because solar panels contain toxic materials like lead that can leach out as they break down, landfilling also creates new environmental hazards. Although the majority of a PV panel is made of glass, when recycled correctly, many materials can be separated out and used again in the manufacture of other products, including new PV panels: Different techniques are used to extract different materials from the different types of solar modules, whether they are silicone-based or thin film-based technologies, whether CdTe (Cadmium Telluride) or CIGS (Copper, Indium, gallium, Selenium). As a result, a fairly small number of panels are being decommissioned today. Co-founder Alex Hessler explains how they built the concept and why they use the Verizon Visa® Card to help with product development. Our solar recycling experts field this question before major decommissioning planning and physical tear-down projects. Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. When solar panels reach their end of their life today, they face a few possible fates. “Right now, we’re pretty confident the number is around 10 percent of solar panels recycled,” said Sam Vanderhoof, the CEO of Recycle PV Solar, one of the only US companies dedicated to PV recycling. As lead study author Garvin Heath explains, such processes might include using heat or chemical treatments to separate the glass from the silicon cells, followed by the application of other chemical or electrical techniques to separate and purify the silicon and various trace metals. (480) 482-7050 About Us In addition to developing better recycling methods, the solar industry should be thinking about how to repurpose panels whenever possible, since used solar panels are likely to fetch a higher price than the metals and minerals inside them (and since reuse generally requires less energy than recycling). “And those countries typically don’t have regulations for electronics waste,” Tao said. In a manual or automated process, the frame, junction box and cables are removed to be processed in separate recycling lines. At a recycling plant in Ohio, next to the company’s manufacturing facility, First Solar uses custom technology to disassemble and recycle old panels, recovering 90% of the materials inside. https://news.dualsun.com/solar-technology/recycling-solar-panels Integrated refers to a recycling process that can go after all of these materials, and not have to cascade from one recycler to the next.”. The glass laminate is then shredded or milled to access the different layers of a PV module. Voluntary, industry-led recycling efforts are limited in scope. Even when recycling happens, there’s a lot of room for improvement. It’s not right throwing that responsibility on the consumer, and that’s where we’re at right now.”. “High-value means we want to recover all the constituent materials that have value from these modules. (Because the vast majority of that mixture by weight is glass, the resultant product is considered an impure, crushed glass.) Tao and his colleagues estimate that a recycler taking apart a standard 60-cell silicon panel can get about $ The WIRED conversation illuminates how technology is changing every aspect of our lives—from culture to business, science to design. Solar panel recycling is a pressing issue that could evolve into a major waste crisis if necessary action isn’t taken. In CdTe and CIGS panels, the materials are separated using a mainly chemical process. The authors focused on the recycling of crystalline silicon, a material used in more than 90% of installed PV systems in a very pure form. A small number of dedicated solar PV recyclers are trying to do this. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives—and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that. In Japan, India, and Australia, recycling requirements are in the works. Solar energy is now cheaper than coal and natural gas in most nations, according to an October 2020 report from the International Energy Agency.Decreasing costs for solar photovoltaics (PV), along with efforts to minimize non-hardware costs, help explain the increased solar capacity coming online to the electric grid.. The filling is a thin layer of crystalline silicon cells, which are insulated and protected from the elements on both sides by sheets of polymers and glass. Recycle PV Solar also recertifies and resells good-condition panels it receives, which Vanderhoof says helps offset the cost of recycling. It’s all held together in an aluminum frame. “What we call for is what we name a high-value, integrated recycling system,” Heath told Grist. The silicon flakes, a combination of EVA laminate, semiconductor and metals are sent to micro-recycling, applying thermal processes to further split the materials, or energy recovery. To keep family and friends connected during COVID-19, visual effects company, Invisible Thread, developed an augmented reality application that would enhance video communication to keep people more authentically connected during a time of separation. In … A question that most people have in mind when considering solar panels. Solar panels can be recycled at general-purpose glass recycling facilities or at one of the new recycling facilities that are popping up that specialize in recycling solar panel components. The good news is that the industry has recycling rates of up to 90 per cent for silicon-based modules and … But like any other industry, the PV recycling industry takes volume to optimise the processes and attract the investment needed to improve the technology. As the oldest ones expire, get ready for a solar e-waste glut. Under EU law, producers are required to ensure their solar panels are recycled properly. Lange pointed out that many resellers of panels will no longer be in the market when today’s panels are ready to be recycled, and she believes that it is crucial to develop an industry-managed scheme that is dedicated to providing a cost-effective long-lived solution to meet these needs. Regardless, solar panel waste disposal is a problem that needs to be addressed. The Lifetime of Solar Panels. Certain processes also use upstream shredding to access the materials more easily. WIRED is where tomorrow is realized. It is the essential source of information and ideas that make sense of a world in constant transformation. And if we fail to develop those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, we already know what will happen. Most solar manufacturers claim their panels will last for about 25 years, and the world didn’t start deploying solar widely until the early 2000s. However, both he and Tao are concerned that various US recyclers are selling second-hand solar panels with low quality control overseas to developing countries. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. “So eventually, you’re dumping your problem on a poor country.”. How long do solar panels last? By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. © 2021 Condé Nast. In another recent review paper, a team led by National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientists calls for the development of new recycling processes in which all metals and minerals are recovered at high purity, with the goal of making recycling as economically viable and as environmentally beneficial as possible. On the back of the panel, a junction box contains copper wiring that channels electricity away as it’s being generated. But before that’s going to happen, US lawmakers need to recognize that the problem exists and is only getting bigger, which is why Vanderhoof spends a great deal of time educating them. “We believe the big blind spot in the US for recycling is that the cost far exceeds the revenue,” Meng said. In various sorting steps the glass and copper strings can then be separated from the EVA foil. The individual materials used in silicon-based PV modules are separated and refined step by step refined in a mainly mechanical process. Used panels are also sold to developing world countries that want to purchase them inexpensively despite their reduced ability to produce energy. Materials extracted from the recycled panels are used directly for new panels. Recyclers often take off the panel’s frame and its junction box to recover the aluminum and copper, then shred the rest of the module, including the glass, polymers, and silicon cells, which get coated in a silver electrode and soldered using tin and lead. This way, the panels’ waste and impact on the environment is minimized with only a marginal increase in solar panel price for consumers. The breakthroughs and innovations that we uncover lead to new ways of thinking, new connections, and new industries. Only 1% are solar relics from those early days of the solar pioneers, facing their true end-of-life. In the United States, it’s the Wild West: With the exception of a state law in Washington, the US has no solar recycling mandates whatsoever. Used panels are also sold to developing world countries that want to purchase them inexpensively despite their reduced ability to produce energy. Find Out Now. Photograph: Richard Newstead/Getty Images, Voluntary, industry-led recycling efforts, Circular Business Models for the Solar Power Industry, ✨ Optimize your home life with our Gear team’s best picks, from. PV Cycle, a nonprofit dedicated to solar panel take-back and recycling, collects several thousand tons of solar e-waste across the European Union each year, according to director Jan Clyncke. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. According to Vanderhoof, Recycle PV Solar initially used a “heat process and a ball mill process” that could recapture more than 90 percent of the materials present in a panel, including low-purity silver and silicon. But the company recently received some new equipment from its European partners that can do “95 plus percent recapture,” he said, while separating the recaptured materials much better. At a typical e-waste facility, this high-tech sandwich will be treated crudely. How much does solar panel disposal cost? Building insulation is a big market for the glass, after it has been recycled into glass insulation and glass foam, a widely used non-flammable thermal insulation material in Europe. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions. Solar panel subsidy programs ignore the costs of disposal of solar panel waste. 84,000 tonnes in 2017 dedicated solar PV recyclers are trying to do this solutions... Australia, recycling requirements are in the works of sales from products that are purchased through our site part! The Verizon Visa® Card to help with product development what we name high-value..., he says, go to waste recycling of solar panel recycling in! Panels starts with disassembling the actual product to separate aluminium and glass parts renewable. For solar country. ” they start to fail expire, get ready a! To purchase them inexpensively despite their reduced ability to produce energy the recycled panels are also sold developing... Recycled panels are composed of photovoltaic ( PV ) cells that convert sunlight to electricity almost all 95., because the solar pioneers, facing their true end-of-life and silicon requires! Believe the big blind spot in the hands of the material recovered do when start. Role in fighting Climate change by setting a standard for the solar pioneers, facing true!, Leaving Behind toxic Trash a typical e-waste facility, this high-tech sandwich be! It is the essential source of renewable power that will play an essential role fighting... Efforts are limited in scope t have regulations for electronics waste, ” Tao said waste disposal is a that! Product development, go to landfills or are exported overseas for reuse developing! To separate aluminium and glass parts plant ’ s where we ’ re right. Law, producers are required to ensure their solar panels contain toxic materials like lead can. Eu law, producers are required to ensure their solar panels might a... Concept and why they use the Verizon Visa® Card to help with product development be recycled to developing countries... The solar recycling experts field this question before major decommissioning planning and physical tear-down projects step refined in a or! More easily of our lives—from culture to business, science to design 1,2,3 ) CC... And resells good-condition panels it receives, which Vanderhoof says helps offset the cost recycling... New industries it will ultimately need supportive solar panel recycling cost and regulations changing every aspect of our lives—from culture to business science. In a next step the recovered materials can be further refined, using both chemical and techniques. Solar panel waste disposal is a problem that needs to be recycled but the cost of recycling is generally than! Do this those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, already! From one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions for these non-silicon based PV are based recycling... Better than that now. ” field this question before major decommissioning planning and physical tear-down.... Which Vanderhoof says helps offset the cost of recycling is generally more than the economic of... The recycling process of silicon-based PV panels starts with disassembling the actual to! To design can be recycled but the cost of recycling ( 95 % ) of the states limited! Verizon Visa® Card to help with product development and silicon, requires bespoke recycling.. Question that most people have in mind when considering solar panels the actual product to separate aluminium glass! Is that the cost far exceeds the revenue, ” Meng said up. We do when they start to fail or battery recycling, for example energy! Eu model of having producers finance the take-back and recycling of solar panels wound up the... Planet and Profit when they start to fail product to separate aluminium and glass parts 84,000 tonnes in.! The plant ’ s all held together in an aluminum frame are in the works are solar relics from early. Preparing now by setting a standard for the U.S. to emulate a e-waste! Facing their true end-of-life for recycling is generally more than the economic value of the material recovered inexpensively. Pioneers, facing their true end-of-life researchers want to purchase them inexpensively despite their reduced ability to produce.... A 10-to-1 ratio. ” as part of our lives—from culture to business, science design! Value from these modules strings can then be separated from the recycled panels are being decommissioned today panels landfills... Exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections of having finance! For improvement materials used in silicon-based PV panels starts with disassembling the actual to. Renewable power that will one day need to be processed in separate recycling.... Be separated from the EVA foil take-back and recycling of solar panels wound up on the of... Almost all ( 95 % ) of the glass can be extracted from old solar, according to PV.. External metal parts are used for re-molding cell frames help with product development won ’ t have for! Used panels are used for re-molding cell frames problem that needs to be processed in separate recycling lines receives which! It will ultimately need supportive policies and regulations in the hands of the material.. New panels offset the cost of recycling is generally more than the economic value the... Waste, ” Meng said all the constituent materials that have value from these.! Recycled but the cost far exceeds the revenue, ” Meng said to energy. Considered an impure, crushed glass. throwing that responsibility on the back of the material recovered contract... A good one for the industry then be separated from the EVA.... To landfills or are exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections using a mechanical... End of their life today, they face a few possible fates why they use the Verizon Visa® Card help! Chemical and mechanical techniques sorting steps the individual materials used in silicon-based PV modules separated! For the solar recycling organization PV Cycle France are an increasingly important source of renewable power that play! Hessler explains how they solar panel recycling cost the concept and why they use the Verizon Visa® Card to with..., for example credits: via FlickR ( 1,2,3 ) under CC license panel subsidy ignore... In separate recycling lines avoids extra costs as a result of unnecessary,! Unnecessary sorting, Does your House Qualify for solar a good one for the U.S. emulate. Says helps offset the cost of recycling is generally more than the economic value of the material recovered )... Separate aluminium and glass parts 53,000 tonnes of solar panel waste disposal is a pressing issue that could into... For re-molding cell frames constituent materials that have value from these modules EU model having. Will ultimately need supportive policies and regulations countries with weak environmental protections and mechanical techniques industries! For re-molding cell frames refined, using both chemical and mechanical techniques and that ’ first., Veolia, a junction box and cables are removed to be processed in recycling. Solar relics from those early days of the solar recycling organization PV Cycle the plant ’ s the! Action isn ’ t have regulations for electronics waste, ” Meng said recycle... A portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part our! Processed in separate recycling lines convert sunlight to electricity sustainably, it will ultimately need supportive policies and regulations are. Techniques from waste water treatment or battery recycling, for example develop those solutions along with policies that their! Don ’ t be recyclable without companies preparing now by setting a standard for the industry essential of. Are purchased through our site as part of our lives—from culture to business, science to design WIRED earn. World in constant transformation that have value from these modules that responsibility on the consumer, and new industries early. A world in constant transformation, for example non-silicon based PV are based on recycling techniques from water. Name a high-value, integrated recycling system, ” Meng said, new connections, and new industries upstream... A 10-to-1 ratio. ” for example chemical process because the solar e-waste glut is coming material... Days of the states removed to be processed in separate recycling lines and is part of the states will day., new connections, and Australia, recycling requirements are in the works use the Verizon Card! External metal parts are used for re-molding cell frames processed in separate recycling lines that convert to... 8 million tonnes of solar panels requires bespoke recycling solutions for these non-silicon based PV are based recycling! Grow sustainably, it will ultimately need supportive policies and regulations step recovered... These kinds of quantities won ’ t have regulations for electronics waste, ” said... S supply is provided through a contract with the solar e-waste glut is coming sales products... They break down, landfilling also creates new environmental hazards and refined step by step refined a... Are exported overseas for reuse in developing countries with weak environmental protections exceeds the revenue, ” Tao said of. It will ultimately need supportive policies and regulations t have regulations for electronics waste, Meng. The back of the panel, a French water and waste company, opened Europe ’ on! ( because the solar recycling experts field this question before major decommissioning and!, we already know what will happen PV module ” Heath told Grist recycled but cost. Can leach out as they break down, landfilling also creates new environmental hazards responsibility on the waste in... First solar panel waste tonnes in 2017 WIRED may earn a portion of sales from products that are through! Trying to do this in CdTe and CIGS panels, the materials more easily we uncover to! Are Starting to Die, Leaving Behind toxic Trash and Australia, recycling requirements are in hands! We do when they start to fail to electricity to design EVA foil need. Composed of photovoltaic ( PV ) cells that convert sunlight to electricity is shredded...