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Recycling solar panels

Reciclado de paneles solares

Despite becoming more and more common, solar photovoltaic installations are not very well known by people. And it is widely unknown that solar panels can be recycled at the end of their life span. That is why we have written this article.

Solar energy has experienced a massive increase over the past few years so obviously more and more components will reach the end of their useful life eventually. It is expected that by 2050 a capacity of 4 to 5 TWp of solar energy. So, what will we do with all these panels that can not be used anymore? Or yes? What do we know about recycling solar panels?

The European Commission presented solar panel recycling in its Directive of Electric and Electronic Devices Waste (RAEE 2002/19/CE). According to this law and recent studies, up to 95% of the materials. And actually, more than 85-90% are often completely recycled.

In Spain, according to a study from 2017, 125 tons of solar panels were obtained and from its recycling 94 tons of glass, 15 of metal and 2.5 of plastic were recovered. Also, conforming to data from 2020, that year 5.000 tons of modules were picked up from where 94,7% of materials were recovered. And by 2030 it is estimated that the volume of panels will reach 50.000 tons

As we can see, the recovery rate of a solar panel is quite high. In order to do so, panels are crushed and cut, separating its components: aluminum and glass in one group because they are highly recycled and in another group, plastic, copper, silver and silicon. After that, each one of the materials follow their own journey.

But how exactly is this process? Well, there is two methods:

  • Chemical recycling. After being separated, aluminum frames and glass from the panels are submitted to a thermal treatment and silicon is melted in order to develop reusable panels.
  • Mechanic recycling: Consists on crushing the whole panel and then applying chemical processes to the materials.

Keeping in mind that other devices and components have a much lower recycling rate, 95% is a very good figure. Besides, the lifespan of solar panels embraces from 30 to 40 years and it is estimated that efficiency only reduces 6-8% after 25 years.

So, how can you recycle your used panels?

  1. When it’s time to recycle your solar panels already amortized the installer or distributor will freelly retrieve your panels as the earlier mentioned european directive says.
  2. Also, you can dispose of the panels you don’t use anymore at your local waste facilities for recycling. In that manner, you will be contributing to the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity and you will foment a circular economy.

Therefore, the belief that it is not possible or efficient to recycle solar panels is completely false. However, more and more people should be aware of this in order to establish an infrastructure of recycling solar panels in order to make it easier for the majority of people to dispose of the panels that will end their life span in the coming years.

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