The first generation of solar panels will wear out. A recycling industry is taking shape

by Ryan Lee
fokus keyword: solar panel recycling

The initial generation of solar panels is approaching the end of its lifespan, ushering in the emergence of a recycling industry.

In Yuma, Arizona, a place where old solar panels are collected, hundreds of these devices are neatly stacked, awaiting a new lease on life. Most of the used and defective panels currently end up in landfills. However, as the accumulation grows, there’s an increasing awareness that this must change.

Within the desert region, where Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja California intersect, the first large-scale solar panel recycling facility in North America has been established. The founders of We Recycle Solar describe the influx of solar waste as a “tsunami” and are working to address it as part of broader climate change strategies, which hinge on the substantial expansion of clean solar energy.

These panels are transported to Yuma from We Recycle Solar’s primary collection warehouse in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and six other sites across the country.

Workers at the vast 75,000-square-foot Yuma facility carefully organize and handle the panels, distinguishing them by brand and model. Some panels might only have minor cracks, possibly from storm-related damage.

Customers worldwide look for these refurbished panels due to their affordability. The Yuma facility is akin to a thrift store that aims to upcycle products. Some of these panels have been resold at places like Mercados Solar in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

The recycling process is complex, as solar panels are constructed to endure extreme weather for decades. They are broken down and processed, with valuable materials like copper, silver, aluminum, glass, and crystalline silicon separated. Repurposing these materials may involve selling the glass to companies engaged in sandblasting, among other uses.

The inspiration for We Recycle Solar began in 2017, recognizing that green technology doesn’t remain sustainable after it’s decommissioned. The recycling not only saves tens of millions of dollars by producing valuable materials domestically but also feeds entire industries.

Copper is one of the metals that the recycling process yields. Even though the copper content per panel is low, recycling large quantities of panels results in substantial copper extraction.

Materials such as aluminum can be reused in various applications, ranging from new solar panel frames to aircraft parts.

By 2050, solar waste is projected to reach around 78 million tons globally. Current recycling efforts are hampered by the cost comparison between recycling and landfill disposal. The goal is to make recycling as cost-effective as possible to promote widespread adoption.

New companies are also entering the solar recycling business, and regulatory bodies like the European Union have implemented rules requiring the recycling of electronic waste. Market researcher Visiongain estimates a rapidly growing global market for solar recycling, spurred in part by legislative incentives.

Experts urge the elimination of scrapping solar modules, with some even suggesting that landfills may eventually be mined to recover valuable materials. But immediate separation and recycling are far more logical.

The Yuma facility has the capacity to process 7,500 panels per day, approximately 69 million pounds annually, avoiding more than 650,000 tons of carbon dioxide. About 60% of the incoming panels are reused, and there are plans to open additional facilities in other locations.

While profitability remains a challenge for the solar recycling industry, it is viewed as a temporary hurdle. Research efforts are underway to overcome these issues, recognizing the vital role of solar energy as a solution to pollution and environmental crises.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword: solar panel recycling

Where is North America’s first utility-scale solar panel recycling plant located?

The first utility-scale solar panel recycling plant in North America is located in Yuma, Arizona.

What are some of the materials recovered during the recycling of solar panels?

Materials such as copper, silver, aluminum, glass, and crystalline silicon are recovered during the recycling process.

What is the main challenge in recycling solar panels?

The main challenge in recycling solar panels is breaking the resilient bonding that holds them together and separating the materials without damage, like shattering the glass.

How does the recycling of solar panels contribute to environmental efforts?

Solar panel recycling helps in reducing waste sent to landfills, reusing valuable materials, and avoiding carbon dioxide emissions, supporting broader climate change strategies.

Are there any other companies entering the solar panel recycling business?

Yes, other companies are entering the solar panel recycling business, and there are regulatory efforts to promote recycling. The global market for solar recycling is also growing.

What percentage of panels are reused at the Yuma facility, and what is its daily processing capacity?

The Yuma facility can process 7,500 panels in a single day and is reusing about 60% of the panels that come in.

How are the solar panels transported to the Yuma facility?

The panels are transported to the Yuma facility from We Recycle Solar’s main collection warehouse in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and six other locations across the country.

What is the projected total of solar waste by 2050?

By 2050, solar waste is projected to total some 78 million tons globally.

More about fokus keyword: solar panel recycling

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techGeek42 August 6, 2023 - 7:03 pm

It’s about time we started recycling these panels!! Why we waited so long. there’s gold in there! (well, not real gold, but valuable materials)

Sarah-Lee87 August 7, 2023 - 3:12 am

Wow. i can’t believe how many tons of waste we could be saving, the earth needs this now.

Mike Jenson August 7, 2023 - 7:03 am

Solar panels are such an amazing invention, and now recycling them! Fantastic! what’s the next big thing in green tech, I wonder

Jenny_Flora August 7, 2023 - 4:31 pm

Great read. But shouldn’t governments b doing more to make recycling compulsory? Just a thought…

OscarW_2023 August 7, 2023 - 5:03 pm

78 million tons globally by 2050, that’s a lot. I hope they figure out how to make recycling more profitable, it would be a game changer!


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