Solar panels are a reusable disease. These companies are trying to fix that.

Expanding solar-power production is the key to reducing emissions around the world. Around the world, solar panels are made 720 terawatt-hours of energy by 2019, accounting for almost 3% of the world’s electricity generation. And it was taken away 46 million tonnes of solar panels to do this.

About 8 million metric tons of random solar panels will accumulate worldwide by 2030. By 2050, the number will reach 80 million. Replacing these panels may provide a new source for materials that would otherwise be mined (may be unsafe or exploiters working conditions), making solar a more sustainable piece of the clean energy puzzle.

What is in a solar panel?

The solar panels are placed like a sandwich with cells in the middle. About 90% of commercial solar panels use silicon as a semiconductor, which converts electricity. Thin strips of metal, usually silver, penetrate the surface of the silicon crystals in each cell and transfer electricity to the copper wires of the panel.

Solar cells are encased in a protective barrier, usually a transparent plastic called EVA. Another layer of glass is on top, and a separate plastic, such as PET, covers the back. The whole thing is surrounded by an aluminum frame.

This layered construction protects the cells from the elements while allowing sunlight, but can be difficult to deconstruct once the panels have reached the end of their life.

The second life

Some companies have tried to repair and re-use panels that have lost efficiency, or at least salvaged some of their components. Reuse is the easiest and cheapest way to “recycle” panels-it requires the least amount of processing and commands the highest price.

A panel can cost almost $ 55, while a used panel can also sell for almost $ 22. Or components of the used panel can sell for a total of up to $ 18, according to Meng Tao |, an engineering professor at Arizona State University and founder of a solar-panel recycling startup called TG Companies.

Even if some vendors offer panel fixtures for sale to residential customers, they don’t offer much price savings. The panels only make up, for the most part, about half the cost of a residential solar array, along with other equipment and permits that account for the rest. Since used panels cannot generate as much electricity, the money saved by purchasing them may not be worth it.

Used panels that cannot be sold are also reserved for landfill or any other form of recycling. Without a federal mandate, Washington recently passed requirements for recycling for manufacturers, and other states are now considering doing the same. Meanwhile, the EU, is asking manufacturers to collect and recycle used solar panels and fund research on end-of-life solutions for the technology they produce.

As many as 8 million metric tons of undamaged solar panels will be assembled by 2030.

Some waste facilities can recycle solar panels using mechanical methods. Most remove the aluminum frame and grind all glass, silicon, and other metals into a mixture called glass cullet, which can be sold for building materials or other industrial applications.

But the cullet isn’t very expensive – about $ 3 the cost of the mixture per panel. And it’s not clear if there will be buyers for all the cullet that will result from the recycling of many more solar panels, according to Tao. Getting clean, essential materials can help make recycling more efficient.

In 2018 waste management company Veolia, based in Paris, opened what is said to be the first recycling line specifically designed for the recycling of solar panels. Located in Rousset, France, the plant also uses a mechanical recycling process, although it is designed for solar panels, many of the components are separately separate than the facilities that use the general equipment of e-waste recycling. But some companies bet that other methods, such as thermal and chemical processes, are more effective.

Mining of old panels

ROSI Solar, a French startup founded in 2017, recently announced plans to build a new recycling plant in Grenoble, France. Yun Luo, CEO of ROSI, said the company has developed a process to extract silver, silicon, and other high -value materials from the panels used. The plant should open before the end of 2022 with a contract from Soren, a French trade Association.

Soren is also working with a French logistics company called Envie 2E Aquitaine, which will try to find other equipment for powerless solar panels. If the panels are not available, the company will remove the aluminum frame and glass before passing it on to ROSI for recycling, Luo said.

ROSI focuses on the recovery of silver and high-purity silicon, as these two materials account for more than 60% of the cost of a panel. The company uses a process to chemically manufacture the remaining coatings, which focuses on removing the small silver particles that carry electricity through a working solar panel.

Luo declined to go into details but said the company can extract almost all of the silver in a solid form, so it can be more easily separated from other metals, such as lead and tin. Luo said the company has also obtained silicon in a pure enough form to be processed and also used in new EV panels or batteries.

To be profitable, ROSI must recycle at least 2,000 to 3,000 tons of panels annually, according to Luo. Soren expects to collect about 7,000 tons of panels by 2021, and that number will probably more than double by 2025.

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