Solar panel recycling – German engineering company Geltz Umwelt-Technologie has successfully developed an advanced recycling plant for obsolete or ageing solar panels. This has been funded by the EU and is known as the ELSi project.
Solar Panel Recycling and Geltz
“Solar module layers are bonded together with polymers that make mechanical separation and treatment of solar module components almost impossible,” said Geltz.
Exploring ways to ensure that valuable components do not end up in landfills was at the heart of ELSi’s mission. “Up until now, there has not been any technical solution to recycle and separate the valuable materials from the mixed scrap. The critical step in the recycling process is therefore the destruction of the polymer layers,” Geltz noted.
The main issue is deciding which parts of the panel are good to recycle, and how to salvage the used panels without too much energy/cost.
ELSi came up with a very clever idea to solve this problem. Using an energy-efficient pyrolysis process (which involves decomposition brought about by high temperatures), fellow research partners were able to to dissolve the unwanted polymer layers and detach the glass inside the solar panels. This process allowed ELSi to separate and recover aluminium, glass, silver, copper, tin and silicon in their pure forms.
“Thanks to the successful recovery of materials and components, the unusable solar module can become a valuable source of raw materials for the future,” the company advised.
According to Phys.Org, the new facility could process around 50,000 solar modules every year. As solar power technology increases and we start seeing more used old solar panels, it’s fantastic there’s a way we can work on salvage and reclamation so we don’t just needlessly waste the materials.
Solar recycling is only going to get bigger as the industry grows – so it’s super important to improve this technology before we end up with a surfeit of old solar panels causing damage to the environment.