Solar panels have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, but they contain valuable metals, including silver and copper.
Solar panels have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, but they contain valuable metals, including silver and copper. With a surge of expired panels expected soon, companies are emerging that seek to recycle the reusable materials and keep the panels out of landfills.
In Odessa, Texas, workers at a startup called SolarCycle unload trucks carrying end-of-life photovoltaic panels freshly picked from commercial solar farms across the United States. They separate the panels from the aluminum frames and electrical boxes, then feed them into machines that detach their glass from the laminated materials that have helped generate electricity from sunlight for about a quarter of a century.
Next, the panels are ground, shredded, and subjected to a patented process that extracts the valuable materials — mostly silver, copper, and crystalline silicon. Those components will be sold, as will the lower-value aluminum and glass, which may even end up in the next generation of solar panels.
This process offers a glimpse of what could happen to an expected surge of retired solar panels that will stream from an industry that represents the fastest-growing source of energy in the U.S. Today, roughly 90 percent of panels in the U.S. that have lost their efficiency due to age, or that are defective, end up in landfills because that option costs a fraction of recycling them.
Read more at Yale Environment 360
Photo Credit: LCEC via Pixabay