Startup is Recycling Solar Panels Turning Waste into Valuable Material
An American firm called Solar Cycle is transforming broken solar panels from landfill waste to valuable raw materials—perfect for making more solar panels.
Copper, aluminum, silver, and silicon are all recovered from panels at the end of their lifecycle, with the company’s new recycling method reducing them to just 2% of their material weight.
A 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency found that likely by the mid 2030s, millions of metric tons of solar panels will be decommissioned, and if a method wasn’t found to economically recycle them, they would probably end up in the landfill.
Some Australian scientists however found a method of electrostatically separating waste streams from solar panels fed into large machine-grade shredders. By removing the aluminum frame, and then shredding the solar cells, the process is profitable and advantageous when shredding small amounts of solar arrays.
The process can chew up 220,000 pounds (1,000 tonnes) of solar panels a year, the rough equivalent to 50,000 panels a year, says lead author Dr. Pablo Dias.
“This is something someone can pick up elsewhere, it doesn’t use any chemicals, it doesn’t emit any hazardous pollution. It produces dust from crushing the panels, but you have dust collectors there,” Dias told the Guardian.
Dias has recently gone to work to apply his technology on behalf of Solar Cycle, who have attracted investment from all over the solar market, like Sun Power, Solar City, and Closed Loop Partners.
“For solar to truly scale to its full potential, we need to create renewable supply chains and a vibrant secondary market for used panels and recycled materials,” Solar Cycle states.
Solar Cycle is currently the only dedicated technology-based recycling company for the solar industry, and they recently closed a deal for end-of-life solar array recycling with their first utility-scale partner, Silicon Ranch, which operates 145 solar power facilities nationwide.