Solar Panel Recycling in the US: a Looming E-waste Concern

Solar Panel Recycling in the US: a Looming E-waste Concern

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The United States now has sufficient put in photo voltaic power capability to energy 17.7 million properties. Although that is improbable for air high quality and greenhouse fuel emissions, it means there’s a looming e-waste concern on the horizon. At some level, the photovoltaic panels will not generate sufficient power. Is it attainable to recycle photo voltaic panels after they have reached their finish of life?

The design lifetime of photo voltaic panels is 25 to 30 years. Over time, photo voltaic modules turn into much less environment friendly in changing daylight to electrical energy because of degradation. Most of the photo voltaic panels within the U.S. had been put in within the final decade. The effectivity of the panels will lower and must be changed. Broken photo voltaic panels are good candidates for a refurbishing program.

Currently, solely a small fraction of solar panels are recycled. The lack of governmental insurance policies, infrastructure, and foresight within the module design course of makes photo voltaic panel recycling costly and arduous. For photo voltaic power to really produce clear power, we should recycle photo voltaic panels successfully.

What supplies are in photo voltaic panels?

When exploring recyclability, it’s useful to think about the elements that make up a photo voltaic photovoltaic (PV) panel. Silicon-based modules are comprised of glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon. Unfortunately, in addition they comprise hint poisonous compounds, corresponding to lead, which may leach into groundwater if not correctly disposed of. Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is present in thin-film photo voltaic and is poisonous and a carcinogen. Because thin-film presently constitutes lower than 5% of the global module market, it’s a smaller-scale concern.

How are photo voltaic panels recycled?

To recycle the modules, they have to be disassembled to take away the glass and the steel elements within the frames and junction containers. Unfortunately, the remaining supplies make a low-value product that’s largely downcycled into low-value merchandise. As a consequence, materials restoration charges are sometimes round 85%, and the demand for the recycled supplies is low.

How can we enhance photo voltaic panel recycling?

Extending the lifetime of decommissioned photo voltaic modules by means of refurbishing is an interesting choice when attainable. Such initiatives create a secondary marketplace for photo voltaic PV supplies that may assist maintain costs down whereas lowering waste.

To obtain dramatic development in recycling initiatives’ worth and restoration charges would require the direct reuse of materials within the body, glass, tabbing, and photo voltaic cells. The copper, silver, and silicon additionally present a priceless alternative if they are often successfully recovered. For instance, silicon may very well be recycled again into photo voltaic panels or the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.

If achieved, this might cut back waste whereas conserving power and sources.

Where can I recycle photo voltaic panels?

Although the U.S. lacks a national network for photo voltaic panel recycling, there’s a patchwork of recycling choices. The Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) National PV Recycling Program has designated Preferred Recycling Partners that meet sure requirements. Two photo voltaic producers cleared the path of their recycling efforts: First Solar and SunPower.

First Solar

First Solar has recycling amenities within the U.S., Germany, and Malaysia that get well as much as 90% of supplies. According to the web site, as much as 90% of the semiconductor materials might be reused in new modules and 90% of the glass might be reused in new glass merchandise.


This producer has a recycling assortment program for its merchandise and makes use of recycling companions to course of the supplies. SunPower’s Maxeon E-Series and X-Series direct present (DC) panels achieved Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Bronze standing. This is a “measure of safer, extra sustainable merchandise made for the round financial system.”

Cascade Eco Minerals

This firm has a zero-landfill dedication. It both processes all supplies in-house or sends them to recycling companions. They have seven areas throughout the U.S. and likewise work with photo voltaic refurbishing suppliers when recycling is pointless.

Echo Environmental

Based in Carrollton, Texas, the corporate domestically recycles electronics and might course of scrap steel and valuable metal-bearing merchandise, together with PV modules, inverters, and cost controllers.

Are there efficient photo voltaic panel recycling applications within the US?

The U.S. lacks adequate recycling infrastructure, and photo voltaic panels aren’t any exception. We must develop a enough infrastructure to course of the photo voltaic panel supplies on a big scale. Unfortunately, module recycling will not be worthwhile. The creation of recycling incentives may assist stimulate progress. The sustainability of the photo voltaic power trade depends on making a profitable recycling market for processors and producers.

Are there insurance policies selling photo voltaic panel recycling?

The U.S. lags behind the EU in having complete insurance policies that promote protected and efficient photo voltaic decommissioning. A nationwide coverage will assist maintain thousands and thousands of modules out of landfills and promote the circular economy. In their absence, just a few states have taken actions to maintain PV panels out of landfills. Some states, together with California, deal with photo voltaic panels as hazardous waste. Washington has a solar stewardship program requiring that producers accumulate panels at no cost to the client for finish of life for recycling.

Achieving a round financial system

Ultimately, photo voltaic panels must be designed for recyclability to realize a round financial system. Currently, the mixture of mechanical, thermal, and chemical processes make PV recycling troublesome and dear. Also, toxicity issues make correct dealing with important.

A really complete recycling technique consists of designing photo voltaic panels for end-of-life by utilizing fewer toxins and making materials extraction simpler. Reducing the usage of lead-based soldering used to carry digital elements collectively is an efficient first step.