North America’s Solar Cell Recycling Situation

The solar panel recycling industry is still in its early stages of development, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the future. With PV waste predicted to expand exponentially in the future decades, now is the time to design recovery methods for this material.

Large solar arrays are becoming more widespread in landscapes around the world. While solar equipment can be used for more than 30 years, end-of-life administration has become a more prominent topic of discussion. 

One organization, in particular, has made a prediction that by 2050, about 6 million metric tons worth of solar panels will hit the waste stream every year all over the globe.

Consider the fundamentals of the equipment in question, the solar cells. The majority of the materials used to manufacture these modules are non-toxic. The items also contain trace levels of silver, tin, and lead.

It’s worth mentioning that even if solar cells end up in dumps, they’re unlikely to have a direct impact on public health. However, this does not account for the economic possibilities of resale hardware and secondary commodities.

Solar panels typically produce energy at the manufacturers’ claimed highest level of efficiency for 20 to 25 years. Nonetheless, researchers anticipate that due to the rapid rise of solar systems after 2010, the waste volume would increase enormously in the future decades.

China, the United States, Russia, Japan, and Germany are on course to generate the most PV waste. According to NREL, these states will produce little under 50 million metric tons within the next 30 years.

In some cases, system owners may opt to swap panels sooner. Used modules may be resold, particularly if they are less than ten years old. Resold equipment is frequently offered to do-it-yourselfers, businesses looking for new components, off-grid users, and bargain hunters.

Buyers typically seek secondhand panels online and communicate with one another through online marketplaces. A trustworthy reseller who focuses on gear evaluation can appraise equipment. The reseller performs product testing, checks amp and voltage output, inspects survivability, and writes up the results.

However, worn panels with broken glass should be disposed of in general. Panels with damaged back sheets should also be recycled, excluding those that can be restored.

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