Pricey EarthTalk: How are we going to take care of all of the waste if the photo voltaic panels put in by everybody at present can be used up in 20-30 years?
– Paul B., Chevy Chase, MD
When purchasing for inexperienced options for dwelling energy technology, there are a number of options that the common shopper seems for. Most hope to search out choices which might be probably the most environment friendly, or the lightest, or probably the most sturdy, however what about probably the most recyclable?
This query is commonly ignored when making such purchases. Sadly, ignoring a product’s life cycle can have disastrous penalties, particularly if decreasing your environmental footprint is a priority.
Take photo voltaic panels, for instance. The common photo voltaic panel lasts about 25 years, and most of them are bought and used inside the final 10 years. Because of this inside the subsequent 15 years, thousands and thousands of retired and damaged photo voltaic panels will flood landfills. A 2020 research from the federally funded Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) discovered that as much as eight million tons of photo voltaic modules may find yourself in landfills worldwide by 2030, and by 2050 this photo voltaic panels can account for 10 p.c of all e-waste on the planet.
To make issues worse, if the waste will not be disposed of correctly, it could possibly trigger groundwater issues round it. Photo voltaic panels comprise many poisonous compounds, comparable to lead, and a carcinogen referred to as cadmium telluride. If any of those chemical substances dissolve in a freshwater supply, the water turns into unsafe to make use of in most capacities.
Even when photo voltaic panels may be recycled, there may be little incentive to take action. Comprised of supplies comparable to aluminum, copper, silicon and glass, roughly 80-85 p.c of a photo voltaic panel may be recycled; nevertheless, the method really prices greater than the price of the uncooked supplies.
Thankfully, the Workplace of Photo voltaic Vitality Applied sciences of the US Division of Vitality is working laborious to create a complete system for managing and recycling photo voltaic panels. By 2030, they plan to cut back the price of photo voltaic panel recycling to only $3 per panel. This discount makes photo voltaic panel recycling an economically viable enterprise!
That mentioned, there may be nonetheless the choice of rebuilding new photo voltaic panels from previous ones. Nonetheless, to be able to do that, direct reuse of the supplies obtained is important. For instance, Silicon may be recycled immediately again into photo voltaic panels, or it could possibly even be used within the anodes of lithium-ion batteries—the purposeful storage unit of electrical energy generated by utilizing photo voltaic panels.
However what about making photo voltaic panels greener? As a substitute of silicon photo voltaic panels (what individuals normally purchase), there may be an alternative choice accessible referred to as Sunflare thin-film photo voltaic panels. The light-weight modules have a carbon footprint of 20 p.c that of silicon, they don’t require poisonous chemical substances comparable to lead, cadmium, hydrofluoric acid or hydrochloric acid to provide, require much less water, and 80 p.c much less power in power to do. . They’re additionally paper skinny, require no silicon refinement, no glass, and no mounts, and are extraordinarily environment friendly in low gentle situations!
CONTACTS: Photo voltaic Photovoltaic Module Recycling: A Survey of US Insurance policies and Initiatives, www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/74124.pdf; Sunflare Photo voltaic, www.sunflaresolar.com.
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