From Sun to Second Life: the Future of Solar Panel Recycling
The Future of Solar Panel Recycling: Essential Steps for Longevity
Is solar panel recycling possible?
Solar panels are a great form of renewable energy that can provide many benefits to the user and the environment. Typically, a solar panel system average lifespan can range from 30-40 years, but what happens to your solar panels when they have run their course and need to be replaced? Is solar panel recycling possible? Many people think that solar panels end up on landfill. But this is simply not true.
Solar Panels can be recycled when they have reached the end of their life cycle. A Solar PV system is made up of solar cells – made up of silicon, glass, EVA, backsheet and the frame. All of these materials are biodegradable that can easily be broken down and repurposed. There are also many benefits to recycling solar panels, including the following:
Upcycling and recycling the valuable materials in solar panels such as silicon, glass, aluminium, and other various metals help to conserve natural resources and reduce the environmental impact of the mining and manufacturing processes.
As older panels reach the end of their life, recycling them prevents them from becoming electronic waste. Electronic waste can be particularly hazardous and by diverting them from landfills, we can minimize the environmental hazards associated with electronic waste disposal.
Recycling solar panels actually requires less energy compared to manufacturing new panels from scratch. The process of extracting raw materials and repurposing them into usable materials can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing process.
Solar panel recycling helps reduce the environmental impact of the photovoltaic industry. It decreases the release of potentially harmful substances, such as lead, cadmium, and selenium.
The recycling of solar panels contributes to the concept of a closed-loop system and circular economy model, where products are recycled and reintegrated into the production cycle of new solar panels, further contributing to a positive environmental impact.
Divert from Landfill:
Recycling solar panels can also come with one of the most obvious benefits. Diversion away from landfill, ensuring that the doesn’t contribute to the mass production of carbon dioxide and other harmful substances generated from landfill.
Green Job Opportunities:
PV Recycling processes not only has environmental positive impacts by economic ones as well. PV recycling has the potential to create more green job opportunities which in turn, the influx of jobs created will make it possible to produce approximately 2 billion new panels from the reused materials of the recycled panels without the need to invest in raw materials.
The popularity of solar panels is looking to grow even more in the coming years, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) solar panel growth is looking to grow to a whopping 4,500GW by 2050. Therefore, with more solar panels means more recycling. Which may beg the question, how do I go about recycling my solar panels?
Luckily in the UK, there are many solar panel recycling centres that will take care of your solar panel once it has run its course. Your Solar panel installer should also have a program or partnership with a recycling company which can take care of recycling your panels. Solar Panels are part of the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and so it is important that solar panels are recycled in the right way. These recycling centres are specially equipped to handle the specific materials found in solar panels and can ensure proper recycling. This process typically includes:
Solar panels are collected and transported to a recycling facility.
Sorting: The collected solar panels are sorted based on their type, composition, and condition. Which helps to identify the materials present in the panels and determine the appropriate recycling methods
The panels are disassembled to separate their various components.
Silicon Cell Separation:
In the case of crystalline silicon solar panels, the cells are separated from the panel structure by mechanically crushing the panels and then using thermal or chemical processes, to separate the cells.
Once the cells are separated, the different components are processed to recover valuable materials using specific methods to ensure proper recovery.
The glass covers from solar panels can be recycled separately. They are cleaned and processed and then can be melted down to produce new glass products.
Recycling of Other Components:
Other components such as the aluminium frame and plastic junction box are also recycled. The aluminium is typically melted down and reused, while the plastic components may be shredded and used for manufacturing other plastic products.
Disposal of Hazardous Materials:
Solar panels may contain small amounts of hazardous materials, such as lead, cadmium, and certain chemicals. These materials need to be carefully managed and disposed of according to regulations to minimize environmental impact.
Overall, it’s great to see that solar panels can contribute to a sustainable future while in operation and once it has run its course. With solar crucial for sustainable energy practices, minimizing waste, conserving resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and more it’s great to see that the solar panel industry could be looking at a robust circular economy.
If you are looking to go solar, find out more information on our website.