Solar panels recycling is now a thing folks. For we have quickly made solar become a significant source of electricity for the world. Moreover, it is a relatively young technology. Currently, they have a useful life of about 10 to 15 years in large commercial applications. Also with most panels still functioning after 25 years. In addition, some are 50 years old and still producing electricity. However, there comes a point where it makes sense economically to replace them. Especially with newer, more efficient panels. As such, if millions of solar panels are installed today. For there are millions that will need to be recycled in the future.
This article discusses two announcements that could be of interest to the solar industry. For that’s including hybrid silicon/perovskite solar panels and a new way of recycling older panels. The article provides an overview of the advantages of hybrid solar panels. Also the challenges of recycling old solar panels. Finally, the microwave technology that could make recycling more viable.
Hybrid Silicon/Perovskite Solar Panels
Conventional solar panels rely on silicon to convert sunlight to electricity, with a theoretical limit of about 29%. The current efficiency record for silicon-only solar cells is 24.5% in commercial cells. As well as, 27% in the laboratory. However, the new hybrid silicon/perovskite solar panels combine both materials. That’s to make a solar panel that is more efficient than silicon can ever be on its own.
Perovskites and Solar Panels
Perovskites make electricity from the “blue” part of the spectrum and react to certain wavelengths in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The combination of perovskites and silicon allows the solar panels to convert more sunlight into electricity. According to multiple researchers, these hybrid solar panels have an efficiency of 30% or more. If the scaling-up of production of the tandem cells proceeds smoothly, they could be commercially available within five years, about the same time silicon-only cells reach their maximum efficiency.
Two groups published the details of their efficiency breakthroughs in the journal Science. One group claims it has achieved efficiencies of up to 32.5% for silicon/perovskite cells, while the other group demonstrated an efficiency of 31.25%. Both groups used different techniques to maximize the output and longevity of perovskite solar cells, which suggests more improvements are possible.
The Potential of Hybrid Solar Panels
Hybrid solar panels have a significant potential for high efficiency and low manufacturing costs. According to Professor Stefaan De Wolf at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, “Overcoming the 30% threshold provides confidence that high-performance, low-cost PVs can be brought to the market.” The industry is moving quickly, and it is likely that multiple companies in China and other countries are working on hybrid solar panels.
However, durability is one of the issues that has kept perovskites from full-scale commercial production so far. Researchers in Germany and Switzerland are working to remove tiny defects on the surface of the perovskite layer that allow some electrons liberated by solar photons to flow back into the perovskite, rather than contributing to the cell’s electrical current and reducing its efficiency.
Recycling Old Solar Panels
The challenge with silicon solar modules is that people don’t quite know how to handle them. There is a real mix of regulations, and there are different materials that can be in there. A typical solar panel is composed of aluminum, glass, silicon, plastic, as well as copper, silver, and a little bit of lead. The layers are sealed together to make the panels weatherproof. That’s making it difficult to take them apart.
Microwave Technology for Solar Panel Recycling
Researchers in Australia have come up with a way that could help solve that problem. They have found that when exposed to the microwave treatment, a solar panel’s protective plastic coating softened to the point where it could be peeled off. Thereby meaning the panel could be easily delaminated and its parts retrieved without using harsh chemicals. This approach could allow recyclers to recover the high-quality glass from panels. That’s in whole instead of having to crush it and sell the pieces as raw material.
By extracting that glass intact, it can make solar panel recycling economically more viable. The researchers estimate their process could unlock materials from each solar panel worth about $12. But if it costs up to $30 to recycle a panel, there is not yet a good business case for doing so. However, if new ways of recycling old panels can recover more materials and the cost of dismantling them comes down. So recycling could become economically feasible.
Economic Benefits of Recycling
The benefits of a decarbonized electricity system greatly outweigh the risks of having some solid waste at the end of life, especially when we’re already putting the infrastructure in place to start to manage that. Recycling could contribute to a fully circular economy where old stuff is not just buried in landfills but becomes the basis for new stuff.
In addition, hybrid solar panels and microwave technology for solar panel recycling are two innovations. Those that could play an essential role in achieving a zero-carbon future. Although they are still in their early stages. Yet they show great potential for the future of solar energy. The solar industry is moving quickly. In addition, it is likely that more breakthroughs will be made shortly. With the right investments and policies in place. Now finally we can ensure a sustainable future for our planet.
Source: CleanTechnica was my inspiration for this post.