Aussie Innovation Solves Solar Panel Recycling Barrier

A big question about solar panels — how to efficiently recycle them — has been answered by two Australian scientists.

The researchers, from the Deakin Institute for Frontier Materials in Victoria, have discovered how to recycle silicon in solar cells.

Although the bulk of solar panels are glass, plastic and metal, the special silicon their cells contain is highly valuable.

Dr Md Mokhlesur Rahman and Professor Ying (Ian) Chen have found a way to recover the silicon and nano-size it for use in lithium-ion batteries (‘nano’ means one billionth of a metre).

Battery-grade nano-silicon retails for around $44,000 per kilogram. The discovery makes solar panel recycling a potentially lucrative industry, stopping panels from ending up in landfill.

Solar future bright with recycling

According to Rahman and Chen, the average service life of a solar panel is 15 to 25 years. Without recycling, there will be around 1.5 million tonnes of solar panel waste in Australian landfill by 2050.

“We can’t claim solar panels to be recyclable, in a circular economy sense, until scientists find a way to harvest and repurpose their most valuable components,” Chen said.

“Our discovery addresses several significant challenges currently facing industries dependent on batteries and energy storage heading into the future.”

Batteries key to energy future

With increased wind and solar power entering our homes and industry, ways to store it are key. Solar panels are only active during the day, and storing solar energy to use later requires a battery.

On a commercial scale, renewable micro-grids – electricity plants consisting of wind/solar and large-scale batteries — are being built in regional areas. Electric car uptake will also increase the demand for batteries.

This growth has increased the demand for battery storage, and recycled silicon makes high-energy battery components.

“It’s the holy grail of repurposing,” Rahman said of solar panel recycling. “To take a product that would otherwise be waste, recycle it, and in the process make it even more valuable at the other end.”

Solar panels and batteries at home

Because solar panels usually produce more power than is used during the day, it’s economical to store it. To do this, you need a home battery like the Tesla Powerwall 2.

If you’d like to store excess solar power to further reduce your power bill, contact us about installing a battery. If you are looking at installing solar panels, we can help with that too. Fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch to help you choose a system for your situation.

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