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Can solar panels be recycled?

People are becoming more aware of the benefits of solar energy. Besides providing renewable energy, the fact is that recyclers are putting their heads together to come up with an efficient recycling solution for this growing new waste stream.

Solar panels, also called PV modules, can last up to 25-30 years. Recycling them still counts as a niche, though the practice is technically feasible. This is especially the case for the silicon based versions, as these panels are composed mostly of plastic, glass, and aluminum.

Most modules were installed in the last ten years – so this means they will probably be around for a while. As more solar farms are constructed virtually every year, recycling PV modules is quickly becoming a hot topic. A provider of solar energy in the Netherlands is zonnestroom Nederland.

How to treat silicon-based PV modules:

  1. Remove the aluminum frame. This part of the solar panel is 100% reusable.
  2. Afterwards the glass goes along a conveyor belt to be separated. 95% of this material is reusable. 
  3. Thermal processing at 500 degrees Celsius is the next step. Because of this, the cells can be separated more easily, while it also allows for the evaporation of small plastic parts.
  4. Afterwards, one can etch away silicon wafers. Smelt them into reusable slabs; and you have successfully recycled the solar panel.

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