As Australia’s burgeoning solar power industry continues to develop, one of the primary concerns has always been the absence of a large-scale recycling facility for retired solar panels. While you can reasonably expect most photovoltaic solar panels to last anywhere between 15 and 35 years before they start to noticeably degrade, the need for such a facility cannot be denied.
As far back as 2010, environmental groups have expressed concerns over the e-waste coming from solar modules reaching the end of their functional lifespans.
In a Grist article published last year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was quoted to have projected that by the year 2050, 78 million metric tonnes of solar panels would have reached the end of their lifespan, and that around 6 million metric tonnes of new solar e-waste would be produced worldwide every year. The projection resulted from a study IRENA conducted in 2016.
Welcome news for the solar power sector
Currently, the number of solar panels being retired is still minimal; however, there’ll be more due for retirement in the next ten years or so.
Good thing that Reclaim PV Recycling – Australia’s first large-scale recycling facility – is increasing its capacity. Reclaim PV uses pyrolysis – a process that involves the thermal decomposition or deconstruction of materials at extremely high temperatures – as a central element of their solar PV panel recycling operations.
Some of the salvageable materials found in old PV modules include aluminium, copper, glass, plastics, silicon and silver. All recovered components after the thermal extraction process are checked, classified and then placed in collection bins that will be delivered to materials companies where the recovered items are available for reuse.
The controlled pyrolysis method being implemented by Reclaim PV is not only pollution-free but also has minimal emissions and lower energy consumption.
Without recycling facilities like Reclaim PV Recycling, plenty of solar e-waste would be competing with other electronic e-waste for space in already overwhelmed landfills. This would cause more toxic materials, such as lead, cadmium, selenium, silicon tetrachloride and tin to leach into the soil and pose a threat to groundwater supply in the communities where landfills are located.
Brighter days ahead
Reclaim PV Recycling’s expanded recycling facilities are set to operate with an initial 70,000-capacity per year soon. They will continue to establish more recycling plants to ensure solar panel decommissioning waste is recycled and redistributed as reusable components.
Perhaps, other establishments will soon follow Reclaim PV Recycling’s example to ensure Australians not only have access to sustainable energy sources but also are able to dispose of solar e-waste responsibly.