Solar Power, not-so-sustainable?
Solar Panels Are Starting to Die, Leaving Behind Toxic Trash
Maddie Stone, Wired
By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions.
The solar sleeper awakes:
Most solar manufacturers claim their panels will last for about 25 years, and the world didn’t start deploying solar widely until the early 2000s. As a result, a fairly small number of panels are being decommissioned today. PV Cycle, a nonprofit dedicated to solar panel take-back and recycling, collects several thousand tons of solar e-waste across the European Union each year…
In the EU the producers have to recycle the panels they make. Rules to deal with solar remnants are apparently in progress in Australia, India and Japan, but there are almost none in the USA.
At a typical e-waste facility, this high-tech sandwich will be treated crudely. Recyclers often take off the panel’s frame and its junction box to recover the aluminum and copper, then shred the rest of the module, including the glass, polymers, and silicon cells, which get coated in a silver electrode and soldered using tin and lead. (Because the vast majority of that mixture by weight is glass, the resultant product is considered an impure, crushed glass.) Tao and his colleagues estimate that a recycler taking apart a standard 60-cell silicon panel can get about $3 for the recovered aluminum, copper, and glass. Vanderhoof, meanwhile, says that the cost of recycling that panel in the US is between $12 and $25—after transportation costs, which “oftentimes equal the cost to recycle.” At the same time, in states that allow it, it typically costs less than a dollar to dump a solar panel in a solid-waste landfill.
Second-hand solar panels are being sent to the third world. Makes a cheaper form of landfill…
h/t Enoch R