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Sustainable, low-maintenance, energy

Anyone who works in the solar industry is aware of the benefits solar energy provides. Clean, renewable energy propels local economies, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and requires little maintenance over the lifespan of the system. What many industry professionals are unaware of is what pros and cons exist for solar modules at the end of their useful life.

What happens after the system has reached its end?

For an industry that prides itself on sustainability, there must be a focus on recycling at the end of a solar project’s lifespan so that landfills don’t overflow with panels. As things currently stand, solar panel recycling is not a huge issue in the US because a vast majority of installations have occurred in the past ten years; nevertheless, the market need for developed recyclers will only increase over time.

How are the solar panels recycled?

Despite the recyclability of the modules, the process in which materials are separated can be tedious and requires advanced machinery. Here are the main steps involved in successfully recycling a silicon module:

  1. Removing the aluminum frame (100% reusable)
  2. Separating the glass along a conveyor belt (95% reusable)
  3. Thermal processing at 500 degrees Celsius
    • This allows for the evaporation of small plastic components and allows the cells to be easier separated.
  4. Etching away silicon wafers and smelting them into reusable slabs (85% reusable)
What does the future hold?

The time when a large number of solar panels must be recycled is fast approaching. Since 96 percent of materials can be reused for producing new solar panels, solar panels will continue to be green as long as we have the right recycling processes in place. Even better, solar panels will be “double green” = they will provide an unlimited source of renewable energy and can be reused at the end of their life.

Resources Used:
  • https://www.seia.org
  • https://www.civicsolar.com
  • https://news.energysage.com
  • https://www.bea.gov

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