In recent years, technological development has cast solar power into a much more favourable light, and the solar PV system has become one of the most cost-efficient renewable energy sources. But since solar technology becomes more robust, older models of solar panels might run into the risk of becoming obsolete or otherwise damaged by weather and time.
So the main question is, what happens when solar panels reach their end of life? Are they recyclable? The simple answer is yes. We will look more into it in this article.
Are solar panels recyclable?
As we said earlier, solar panels are recyclable. Solar PV system and panels typically are made of a mixture of glass, aluminium, and plastic. Even though aluminium and glass are highly recyclable, plastic is not frequently recycled and less valuable.
That said, the problem here lies with the segregation of the mixed materials. The procedure of extracting each of these materials is a bit tedious. This extraction also requires advanced machinery and special expertise.
What is the procedure of solar panel recycling?
The following procedure shows how a silicon solar module is recycled:
Step 1: The aluminium frame is removed from the panel and is considered 100% reusable
Step 2: The glass is separated when it goes along a conveyor belt. 95% of this piece of glass is considered reusable.
Step 3: The recycled panel goes through thermal processing, which brings the frame up to 932° Fahrenheit. This portion of the procedure permits the evaporation of small plastic components not yet stripped from the panel. This also allows the cells to be segregated more easily.
Step 4: the silicon wafers are etched away before being smelted into reusable slabs. The silicon on these slabs is considered to be 85% reusable.
The following procedure shows how a thin-film based solar module is recycled:
Step 1: Put them in a shredder. Then, a hammermill ensures that all particles are no larger than 4-5mm, which is the size where the lamination keeps the inner materials together, breaks and can be removed.
Step 2: A rotating screw separates the remaining substance consisting of both solar and liquid material.
Step 3: the resulting substance goes through metal processing to completely separate the different semiconductor materials. On average, 95% of the semiconductor material is reusable.
Step 4: At last, the material goes through rinsing. What remains is pure glass, saving 90% of glass elements for easy re-manufacturing.
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