How Green are the Materials used in Solar Panels?

Hands Showing Solar


Solar energy is clean energy for residences and businesses that leaves next to no carbon footprint on our planet. After the years of decimation caused by fossil fuels to Earth’s climate as well as atmosphere, solar energy has the promise of a greener future. The solar panels created to harness the sun’s energy are comprised of materials that need to be recycled in a specialized manner. If this is not done, they have the potential to pollute the environment. Theoretically, nearly 98% of the materials used in solar panels can by recycled.


Most solar panels are made by using materiel that can be easily reused or recycled. Solar panels work by converting
light energy to electrical energy through the photovoltaic effect. A large majority of these solar panels either utilize thin-film cells based on silicon or cadmium telluride or wafer-based crystallized silicon cells. In the year 2013, over 90% of the world’s photovoltaic production was accounted by crystalline silicon and the rest of the market was made up of thin-film cells based on amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride as well as other materials. Below is an image the depicts the materials used in solar panels.

Break Down of a Solar Panel


From old solar panels, a high amount of materials can be retrieved. The materials can be retrieved and can then even be used in the manufacture of new photovoltaic panels. Materials such as glass, silver, indium, selenide, gallium, copper, aluminum, cadmium, silicon dioxide, and aluminum dioxide can be retrieved and reused. The materials that cannot be used to make new panels can be used in the manufacture of other products. Nearly 90% of the most precious semiconductor materials in solar panels can be recycled and used to create new panels. Recycling all of this saves money on materials and reduced the amount of waste that is amassed on landfills


Solar cells made using cadmium need to be disposed of in an efficient manner as specialized recycling is required for cadmium. Cadmium can be harmful to the environment if it is allowed to rot in regular landfills around the world. Specialized recycling has not been established worldwide, however, China is attempting to solve this problem on a large scale basis. China is the world’s largest producer of solar energy and the country is aggressively pursuing this form of energy, including research into space-based solar energy.


There is a need to develop photovoltaic-specific recycling techniques based on the materials used in solar panels. Recycling solar panels based on their PV specifications is gaining popularity this century. Manufacturers are considering the benefits of PV-specific recycling while developing solar panels nowadays because the amount of solar panels in the world is only going to increase. Recycling materials will save manufacturers a great deal of resources on sourcing new materials.

Investment in PV-specific recycling is growing on a daily basis and we will need to adequately prepare for the barrage of old solar panels that are going to be unusable in the near future.