Solar panels are made up of several materials, including glass, metal, and plastic. While recycling solar panels is possible, it can be challenging due to the complexity of the materials and the need to separate them. A team of researchers from Australia’s Deakin University are working to achieve that.
1. Recycling process
There are several methods of recycling solar panels. One approach is to mechanically process the panels, where the panels are crushed, and the different materials are separated using magnets and other processes. Another method involves using thermal processing to separate the materials. This team of researchers from Australia has developed a new thermal and chemical technique to extract silicon from the obsolete panels.
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Solar’s meant to be a renewable energy, sustainability-related product. Getting the best recovery out of a solar panel is probably more paramount than any other product.Anthony Vippond, CEO of Lotus Energy, a renewable energy company in Australia
Currently, several companies and organizations are working on improving the recycling process for solar panels. Some manufacturers have implemented take-back programs, where they collect used panels and recycle them. Additionally, some governments have established regulations that require solar panel manufacturers to meet specific recycling targets.
2. Lengthy process
Recycling solar panels can help reduce waste and conserve resources but it is a lengthy process. Pulling apart the different pieces and separate them is extremely meticulous, expensive and time-consuming. “At the moment, it would be cheaper to put them into landfill than to recover them,” said John Polhill, Manager of Infrastructure Partnerships at Sustainability Victoria.
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However, the Deakin University researchers said they have found a way to make that process more viable. By relying on complex heating and chemical processes and not using – dangerous chemicals to extract the valuable silicon from the panels, the researchers said this method seems promising in making the recycling process of solar panels cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
There are many other technologies around the world, but most of the technologies are complicated, multi-step, timeconsuming.Mokhlesur Rahman, Deakin University
3. Valuable process
The nanoparticle material made from silicon in solar panels is worth a lot of money, making the new method financially very interesting for recycling businesses. Silicon is the primary material used to make the photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity in solar panels. It is a widely available element, and it has the unique property of being able to convert light into electrical energy.For example, it can also be used to create battery anodes that increase the capacity of lithium batteries.
While the cost of silicon has decreased significantly over the years, it still represents a significant portion of the cost of manufacturing solar panels. As a result, the recovery and reuse of silicon from decommissioned solar panels is becoming increasingly important in the solar industry. However, this new technology must be tested to see whether it works at an industrial level.
“We would be ecstatic if we could achieve that [commercialising the process] at the moment. Of course, it’s some incredible numbers AU$45,000 (€28,500) per kilo for nano silicon,” said Vippond.