According to the IEA, almost 500,000 solar panels are installed globally every day.
And needless to say, solar panels can produce clean renewable energy for up to 30 years, but what happens when they reach the end of their lifetime?
Well, at the end of the lifetime of your system you have 2 options: Either dispose of the panels in landfills or recycle them.
Disposing of solar panels isn’t an option, as some of the panels contain heavy metals such as silver, lead, arsenic, and cadmium that can negatively impact the environment.
Also, recycling the solar panels is a way better option, as it makes sure that the materials and energy used to manufacture them will not be lost and can be used again, which reduces your carbon footprint even more.
For these reasons, in this article, we will go through how solar panels are recycled and where you can recycle your panels in South Carolina.
How Are Solar Panels Recycled
If you are curious about how solar panels are recycled, then this section is specially made for you.
In this section, we will quickly dive into the process of solar panel recycling and how each component is retained.
Step 1: Collecting the Panels and Sorting Them
Most solar recycling companies have a network of hundreds of different collection points where you can leave your panels, so you can drop your solar modules for them to recycle.
After the solar recycling company collects your panels, they will start sorting them by hand depending on the solar panel type such as mono, poly, or thin-film.
Step 2: Removing the Aluminum Frame and Plastic
Solar panels are 8% aluminum and luckily, the metal frame is 100% recyclable and can be used in other solar modules.
Step 3: Separating the Glass and Semiconductor Material
This process is done by pressing and shredding the module into small 4-5 mm pieces.
Then, these fractions are separated by using modern technologies such as high-tech light-sensitive and chemical paths depending on the PV technology used.
At the end of this step, up to 90% of the glass and 95% of the semiconductor material is refined and can be reused.
Step 4: Recover the Silicon
After separating the glass, now it’s about time to recover the silicon.
To do this, the remaining materials are put into special ovens and heated at 932 degrees Fahrenheit.
This will ease the connection between the materials and most importantly will evaporate the plastic. However, what’s great about this is that not even the plastic is wasted, in fact, it’s used as a heat source for further thermal processing.
After this process, almost 80% of the material can be reused while the remaining 20% will further be treated.
To recover the silicon, these remainings are further treated using acid paths resulting in about 85% recovery rate.
This raw silicon is extremely can then be used to manufacture other solar modules, make smart devices, or even used in different industries.
Benefits of Recycling
There are numerous economical and environmental reasons to recycle your panels and in this section, we will go through some of them.
1. Good For the Environment
Recycling is good for the environment in 3 ways:
First, Solar panels often contain toxins such as lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals. These pollutants can be very harmful to the environment and cause many different hazards such as heavy metal pollution, especially in countries with poor waste management systems.
Second, it gives the material a second life instead of ending in landfills.
These materials can be reused to make other products such as new solar panels, solar lights, smart devices, and many more.
This won’t only have a great economical effect, but it’ll also reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.
Finally, recycling solar panels means there will be no landfills (at least new ones). Landfills produce so many harmful gases such as ammonia, sulfides, methane, and most importantly, carbon dioxide that contaminate air, soil, water, and human health.
Also, because you no longer need to build landfills, this means that there is more land you can plant to reduce your carbon footprint even more.
2. Reuse Valuable Raw Materials
Solar panels contain many valuable materials such as pure silicon, silver, copper, aluminum, and many more metals that have a very high value.
According to the studies, by the year 2050, we will recover around $11 billion US dollars in material value.
This will help us to produce 2 billion new panels, which can generate around 630 GW of energy.
Also, because we can recover 95% of the materials, we will be able to manufacture more solar panels with less cost, which will reduce the commercial price of solar panels and help more people to go solar.
So recycling solar panels won’t only protect the environment, it also saves us a lot of money.
3. Create More Jobs
To recycle solar panels in South Carolina, you first need to collect the panels, deliver them to a recycling facility, sort the panels according to their type, remove the aluminum frame and glass, test for toxins, refine silicon, sell the raw materials, and transport it to another manufacturing facility.
Now think of how many new green job opportunities are created.
Challenges That Faces Solar Panel Recycling in South Carolina
1. Lack of Federal Legislature
As we speak, there is no federal legislation in place to regulate solar panel recycling in South Carolina for residential and commercial use.
However, now as more and more panels are reaching the end of their lifetime, it’s expected that we will see more federal legislatures within the coming few years.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest challenges that faces solar panel recycling in South Carolina is innovation.
To understand how innovation can make recycling much harder, first, you need to understand how can solar recyclers make money.
Solar recyclers make a profit by selling the valuable raw materials they pull out of the solar panels such as aluminum, glass, silicon, silver, and copper. With silver being the most profitable ingredient.
In fact, although silver makes up a very small fraction of the solar panel mass, it’s responsible for almost 50% of the profit margin.
The problem with this is that solar manufacturers have gotten very good at omitting silver by using modern inkjet and screen printing technologies, which replace silver with a combination of copper, nickel, and aluminum.
Although this new technology will highly reduce the manufacturing cost of solar panels, it can be disastrous for solar recyclers, as now their profit is cut by almost half.
Currently recycling solar panels in South Carolina is way more expensive than just disposing of the panels in landfills.
However, one of the solutions to overcome this problem is to pay a small fee to recycle the panels.
For instance, the average 18 square food solar module costs around $15-20 to recycle, which is a relatively low expense the owner would have to pay.
The Future of Solar Recycling in America
Thanks to the massive price decline, solar is becoming more and more popular.
In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab, the United States installs 7 million pounds of solar panel every day and it’s only expected to go up.
With this amount of solar panels pumped into the market, the demand for recycling is rising, which will eventually lead to more recycling policies and recycling market development.
And according to Solar Energy Hackers, as we speak, more and more recycling facilities are being built and soon enough we will have strict recycling policies to ensure non of the solar panels is gone to waste.
Best Companies For Solar Panel Recycling in South Carolina
Right now there is only one company in South Carolina that recycles solar panels, which is Cleanlites.
They serve South Carolina, Charlotte in addition to North Carolina as well.
Cleanlites recycling center is equipped with the latest recycling technologies that ensure none of the solar panels are gone to waste.
In addition to solar panel recycling, the facility can store, recycle, and dispose of many types of waste including but not limited to electronics, plastic and PVC, healthcare and sharps, and many more.
Right now, many solar panels are reaching the end of their lifetime, and all these panels end in landfills, which isn’t only bad for the environment, it’s also a huge waste of materials.
For this reason, many people are looking for eco-friendly ways to dispose of their old panels, and there is no better way to do this than recycling.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of challenges that face solar panel recycling in South Carolina such as the high cost, especially when compared to landfills.
However, more and more regulations are being made that will help the growth of the solar recycling market.
In the end, we really hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful as much as we did.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.