Yes, solar panels can be recycled.
There are specialised recycling companies that already recycle solar panels – of course, right now they have very little business as there is still a long life left for many solar panels.
As sales of solar panels and wind turbines increase, so too does the scale of an often-overlooked problem now being stored for future generations. What happens to all the “green” infrastructure when it reaches the end of its life?
Solar panels comprise metals and glass, which, if they were separated and captured, could be reused in the manufacture of other products.
However, solar panel recycling is no easy task, because the units are assembled from multiple, extremely different materials. These include:
- Glass (comprising the front cover of most PV panels)
- Aluminum (frame)
- Synthetic materials used to encapsulate and seal in the silicon cells — these may include such substances as ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), polyvinyl butyral (PVB) and/or polyvinyl fluoride)
- Silicon solar cells
- Metals such as lead, copper, gallium and cadmium
Proper recycling of solar panels demands that these disparate materials be separated and recovered with minimal damage and loss of material. The materials can then be re-used to manufacture new panels, or for other industrial applications
It is possible, through innovative technologies still being developed, to recycle more than 90 percent of a solar panel. But, given the volatility in the value of the resulting raw materials, this is a high-risk sector to develop, and research and development is lacking. Basic recycling schemes do exist, but often focus on two valuable components — the glass and aluminum frame, for instance — and discard the rest, including silver, silicon and tin, because it is not yet cost-effective to recycle them.
In this context, note that recycling for silicon based solar panels will be quite different from that for thin films based on either CdTe or CIS/CIGS, as these are made of entirely different materials. First Solar, the global leader in CdTe-based thin film solar panels says this on its web site about recycling: “Our proven, state-of-the-art recycling process achieves high recovery rates; up to 90% of the semiconductor material can be reused in new modules and 90% of the glass can be reused in new glass products.”
You Might Want to Check Out these Too on the Rest of the Questions
- What is a Solar PV Array? How is it Different from a Solar Module?-Here
- What is the Difference between Solar Module and Solar Panel?-Here
- Can I Use Different Brands of Solar Modules in the Same Rooftop or Solar Farm?-Here
- Is It a Good Idea to Have Elevated Solar Panels on My Rooftop to Get an Extra Room?-Here
- How Many Cells are there in a Solar Panel?-Here