Sydney – Australian researchers have developed a process that can recover 99 percent of the materials in solar panels within 15 minutes. Accordingly, they can extract about 640 grams of silver per ton of discarded solar modules as well as toxic chemicals.
Solar cells are central to the expansion of renewable energy. However, the materials they contain are difficult to recover because their glass and silicon, as well as the metals, wires, and plastics, are closely interconnected and difficult to separate. As a result, most discarded solar modules end up in landfills, along with their metals and chemicals.
“It is a very urgent problem to dispose of the first generation of solar modules, which are about to expire,” chemical engineer Yansong Shen of the University of New South Wales in Sydney was quoted as saying in a media release. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that by 2030, there could be about 8 million tons of disposed photovoltaic panels. It forecasts 78 million metric tons by 2050.
To address this problem, scientists at the university have developed a process that allows 99 percent of solar panel materials to be recovered easily and quickly. For example, Shen and his team believe that their process alone could recycle up to 50 million kilograms of silver. This corresponds to about 0.64 kilograms of silver per ton.
The process uses a series of crushing tools and screens to separate the materials in the solar cells. According to the data, this takes only 15 minutes. Subsequently, chemicals, various metals and other substances can be leached out. “We’re already working with some industry partners,” Shen said, “but would like to do more collaborations with industry to further scale this process and improve its economics.” ce/jd