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The growing popularity of greener alternatives to the conventional source of energy and power, presents a sort of a paradoxical situation. The latest technology photovoltaic systems and turbines which apparently pose as spectacular sources of energy that aims at conserving the environment in the current scenario are most likely to become a massive trouble later in the years if overlooked. More often than not, all the solar technology systems have a life expectancy of somewhere between 30 to 50 years. The question is how exactly we are supposed to deal with this ‘green’ waste once it reaches the end of its life? Solar Panel Recycling.
With the growing demand and supply of solar panels and turbines to generate clean energy in the US, the government is effectively planning ahead of times and trying to develop ways and approaches for recycling this green waste in such a way that it poses negligible hazard for the surrounding ecosystem. Under their national Photovoltaic Module recycling program, the Solar Energy Industries association is presently working towards the research and development of recycling procedures for the solar industry. Unlike most of the previous generation green waste that was frequently disposed off, by means of incinerators or landfills, the new PV recycling technology aims at re-utilizing the glass and metal components of the solar modules for future usage.
Some of the earliest solar panel systems were produced and installed in the early 70s. Considering their life expectancy, a majority of such system have already covered a major chunk of their life. However, since these systems are still pretty much functional, the need for dismantling and disposing them off hasn’t arrived yet. In order to properly plan for the hundred and thousands of solar panels that will be reaching the end of their productive life in the next 10-20 years researchers and companies have been focusing on solar panel recycling.
Although, there are no actual samples of PV modules that have completed their entire life cycles yet, there have been cases of solar panels getting damaged or destroyed during delivery or installation. Much of the recycling is performed for such modules, which could not actually make it to a normal life span. The SEIA officials accept returned solar modules and appoint reliable waste disposers and handlers for recycling the components.
As per the statistics, there are already millions of solar panels installed across the world, which will most probably become defunct within the next 30 to 40 years. It is then that the urgent need of recycling such massive amount of hazardous waste will arise. It is absolutely essential for the companies to start preparing for it now, in order to be able to facilitate the recycling procedure for such huge amount of waste later in the years.
It is interesting to know that the recycling process of photovoltaic modules can actually help in extracting a wide variety of materials. Despite the fact, that a major portion of the solar panels is created from glass, there are several other materials which can be separated and later utilized in manufacturing other products such as brand new PV modules.
Some of the materials which can be extracted through the PV recycling process are glass, copper, selenide, aluminum, aluminum oxide, silver, silicon dioxide, gallium and indium. Owing to the fact that there are a variety of solar panels available in the market such as CIGS, CdTe, thin film based or silicone based, there are several different procedures and techniques of extracting the materials from them. Several materials such as CIGS, CdTe and silicon dioxide are extremely valuable for their semi conductor properties, and can be largely employed in creating new solar panels as well. Depending upon the whether the panel is silicon based or not, there are mainly two techniques for separation and extraction of the composite materials namely mechanical separation and chemical separation respectively.
The mechanical separation process is mainly employed for extracting the various materials from a silicone based PV panel. Through an automated or manual procedure, the auxiliary components such as the cables, junction box and frame are detached and separated for processing on another recycling line. Next, the glass laminate portion of the panel is shredded or ground in a mill to expose the various layers of the module. The glass and the copper strings are then removed and separated out from the EV foil through another sorting procedure. The next series of steps are utilized to further refine the separated materials namely the silicone flakes, EVA laminate, metals and semiconductor compounds by subjecting them to micro recycling or thermal splitting for further breakdown.
The chemical separation process is utilized for the separation of non silicone based photovoltaic modules such as CIGS and CdTe systems. As the named suggests, the procedure is largely a chemical based process which bears a stark resemblance to the recycling procedure of batteries and waste water treatment. A series of techniques that employ the usage of upstream shredding are incorporated in order to expose the various composite materials of the solar panel. The process is followed by a refining technique that utilizes both mechanical and chemical procedures for shredding the materials and recovering their purified forms separately.
The fact that a typical PV module lasts for nearly half a century poses a huge obstacle in the path of developing effective waste management and recycling programs by the present units. However, considering the growing awareness among the industry officials regarding the urgent need to develop a recycling program for solar modules, there will soon be an effective management solution for the issue.
The practice and research of solar panel recycling is an important factor in the future of solar. As you probably know solar panels last well beyond their warrantied years, averaging a 30-50 year lifespan. The solar industry has always been forward thinking and solar panel recycling is just one way the renewable energy industry is planning for a long and sustainable future. Interested in joining the solar movement? Set up a free, no-obligation Energy Evaluation with Home Energy Systems and find out just how solar energy can benefit you and your future.
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