Solar is growing quickly, but it is just maturing as an industry, and its products are only just beginning to approach middle-age. The vast majority of global PV installations have more than a decade of life left in them. With no moving parts to wear out, they last a long time.

Relative to other industries facing similar “life-cycle” issues–such as computers and cell phones–there isn’t a lot of discarded solar product out there to be dealt with yet.

Solar PV modules comprise of small percentages of hazardous materials (cadmium, lead, etc.) and they must be disposed off safely or recycled .

Need for solar panel recycling

Solar panels comprise metals and glass, which, if they were separated and captured, could be reused in the manufacture of other products. Effective, efficient recycling systems are needed if alternative technologies are to be truly green, and they need to be established quickly.

Challenges involved

Yes, Recycling of solar modules is possible, through innovative technologies still being developed, to recycle more than 97% 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 aluminium frame, for instance. But of more concern is the lead and selenium content more commonly used in thin-film solar, which are both hazardous materials.

Current status

  • PV CYCLE is a pan-European Producer scheme, offering dedicated compliance and waste management services for solar energy system products falling under WEEE and Battery Producer Responsibility legislation. The organization has national representations in a series of European countries, managing our waste treatment and compliance solutions.
  • Interviews with manufacturers conducted by PV CYCLE showed that all manufacturers favoured recycling as a way of ensuring that their technology remained green during all stages of its lifespan, and 80 percent wanted third-party companies to handle the recycling.
  • Some private companies and non-profit organizations are currently engaged in take-back and recycling operations for end-of-life modules.
  • Environmental organizations and recycling companies are now encouraging manufacturers to prepare for recycling in the design phase, using less harmful materials and creating panels meant to be disposed of cleanly.

Conclusion

AS mentioned above, most parts of a solar module can be recycled including up to 97% of certain semiconductor materials or the glass as well as large amounts of ferrous and non-ferrous metals but materials like lead, selenium, etc. neither can be recycled nor cost effective recycling methods are available for now. The recycling of PV panels is in its budding stages and will, one day, be a profitable industry in itself. Recycling materials, even rare ones such as cadmium and tellurium, can be an expensive process. In fact, at the present time it is cheaper to use new materials, but as this is in part due to the lack of large-scale recycling programs

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