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The World is Facing a Solar Panel Waste Problem

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https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Solar-Energy/The-World-Is-Facing-A-Solar-Panel-Waste-Problem.html#comment_added

Disposing of waste from solar panels and wind turbines is a very unpopular with greenies. This is a good introduction to the solar panel waste problem. What do you think? Just bury it and let it all leach into the groundwater?

The World Is Facing A Solar Panel Waste Problem

By Irina Slav - Jul 30, 2020, 3:00 PM CDT

image.png.86a6368f0ffb76cd9ba85baeda522671.png

 

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I say we grind them up and inject the debris into all the abandoned oil wells. 

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2 hours ago, Jay McKinsey said:

I say we grind them up and inject the debris into all the abandoned oil wells. 

Or fracking fluid proppant!  

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5 hours ago, ronwagn said:

https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Solar-Energy/The-World-Is-Facing-A-Solar-Panel-Waste-Problem.html#comment_added

Disposing of waste from solar panels and wind turbines is a very unpopular with greenies. This is a good introduction to the solar panel waste problem. What do you think? Just bury it and let it all leach into the groundwater?

The World Is Facing A Solar Panel Waste Problem

By Irina Slav - Jul 30, 2020, 3:00 PM CDT

image.png.86a6368f0ffb76cd9ba85baeda522671.png

 

As the supply of end of life panels builds a recycling industry will develop

Aluminum frames - very recyclable

Copper / Aluminum cables - very recyclable

Steel stands - recyclable

Glass - can be recycled or used as foundation base for roads etc. Its inert anyway so local disposal not an issue. 

Trace metals - can be extracted - obviously a bit more complex. 

 

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The solar cells and control electronics improves markedly over time. Glass, aluminum, steel, and so forth are passive, they don't change much. The only thing that needs a focused recycling effort are the cells and the inverters/power converters.

A 'de-manufacturing' process would involve removing the solar panels from the racks and sending them to a recycling facility. The glass surface would be inspected and perhaps resurfaced, and then reused on the replacement panel. The individual cells would be separated from their backing. The silicon nitride (or other coating) would need to be removed, which might be done with a chemical etch or 'cold plasma'. Once that's off, the silver would need to be removed, leaving the cell with the two semiconducting layers. Since the elements in the two layers are 'trace', it may be necessary to gasify the silicon to silane (SiH4) and distill out the respective trace elements.

At some point, old panel retirement will occur faster than new panels are installed, particularly if conversion efficiency doubles. This means the used cell inventory would have to be managed as a stockpile. Phosphorus and boron are examples of doping elements, these have plenty of other uses. The cell material that is no longer useful could be oxidized to sand (SiH4 + 3O2 -> SiO2 + 2H2O) and dumped on the beach.

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4 hours ago, NickW said:

As the supply of end of life panels builds a recycling industry will develop

Aluminum frames - very recyclable

Copper / Aluminum cables - very recyclable

Steel stands - recyclable

Glass - can be recycled or used as foundation base for roads etc. Its inert anyway so local disposal not an issue. 

Trace metals - can be extracted - obviously a bit more complex. 

 

So, how can the trace metals be extracted and will they be. We need laws in place IMHO. What has happened to outdated panels so far?

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3 hours ago, ronwagn said:

So, how can the trace metals be extracted and will they be. We need laws in place IMHO. What has happened to outdated panels so far?

'Outdated' panels just find their place in the second hand market (much like cars)  - for all its faults Ebay is a wonder sales mechanism for second hand stock. . Solar panels will last for 40-60 years (possibly longer) 

4 of my 6 panels were second hand from solar farm upgrades. They sit on our east and west facing rood faces. In the last 3 days we have used £1 of electricity. 

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5 hours ago, Meredith Poor said:

The solar cells and control electronics improves markedly over time. Glass, aluminum, steel, and so forth are passive, they don't change much. The only thing that needs a focused recycling effort are the cells and the inverters/power converters.

A 'de-manufacturing' process would involve removing the solar panels from the racks and sending them to a recycling facility. The glass surface would be inspected and perhaps resurfaced, and then reused on the replacement panel. The individual cells would be separated from their backing. The silicon nitride (or other coating) would need to be removed, which might be done with a chemical etch or 'cold plasma'. Once that's off, the silver would need to be removed, leaving the cell with the two semiconducting layers. Since the elements in the two layers are 'trace', it may be necessary to gasify the silicon to silane (SiH4) and distill out the respective trace elements.

At some point, old panel retirement will occur faster than new panels are installed, particularly if conversion efficiency doubles. This means the used cell inventory would have to be managed as a stockpile. Phosphorus and boron are examples of doping elements, these have plenty of other uses. The cell material that is no longer useful could be oxidized to sand (SiH4 + 3O2 -> SiO2 + 2H2O) and dumped on the beach.

Glass makes an extremely tough and durable base material - thats the best reuse of it if its not suitable for recycling back into solar cell glass. 

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6 hours ago, ronwagn said:

So, how can the trace metals be extracted and will they be.

Many ways are possible:

Density separation, electrolysis, magnetic separation, floc flotation, heap leaching.

Valuable metals will be recovered, way cheaper source than raw ores.

Edited by Enthalpic
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47 minutes ago, Enthalpic said:

Many ways are possible:

Density separation, electrolysis, magnetic separation, floc flotation, heap leaching.

Valuable metals will be recovered, way cheaper source than raw ores.

I hope so but knowing how contractors work, I would like to see laws in place to mandate it. Not that they can't break those laws. 

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3 hours ago, NickW said:

'Outdated' panels just find their place in the second hand market (much like cars)  - for all its faults Ebay is a wonder sales mechanism for second hand stock. . Solar panels will last for 40-60 years (possibly longer) 

4 of my 6 panels were second hand from solar farm upgrades. They sit on our east and west facing rood faces. In the last 3 days we have used £1 of electricity. 

Congratulations Nick! I am proud of you. Is rood a typo? I have considered them but we are too old to financially recover the investment and have trees all around the house. I am actually an old Mother Earth News subscriber. You may not have it in the U.K. though. It tells about all sorts of do it yourself plans for living off the grid. 

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31 minutes ago, ronwagn said:

I hope so but knowing how contractors work, I would like to see laws in place to mandate it. Not that they can't break those laws. 

I would like to see more regulation too.

Notice I said valuable metals will be recovered, the rest will probably be sent to landfill. Unethical computer "recycling" is the same way; pull out some expensive bits and trash the rest.

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1 minute ago, Enthalpic said:

I would like to see more regulation too.

Notice I said valuable metals will be recovered, the rest will probably be sent to landfill. Unethical computer "recycling" is the same way; pull out some expensive bits and trash the rest.

It requires a lot of effort to get rid of all the somewhat hazardous electrical items here in the U.S. I hope it is better in Canada. My thought is that all local waste management should be required to add that to their duties. Some kind of red bag system or whatever. I have a pile in the garage. Old computers, printers, light bulbs etc. 

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1 minute ago, ronwagn said:

It requires a lot of effort to get rid of all the somewhat hazardous electrical items here in the U.S. I hope it is better in Canada. My thought is that all local waste management should be required to add that to their duties. Some kind of red bag system or whatever. I have a pile in the garage. Old computers, printers, light bulbs etc. 

We have EcoStations where you can dump most of that for free.

They also have a section where you can take working electronics; I've seen some nice TV's there

They also blend all the waste white paint they get together and you can take several cans for free. It's blended so all the cans are the same shade of off-white.

 

 

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45 minutes ago, ronwagn said:

Congratulations Nick! I am proud of you. Is rood a typo? I have considered them but we are too old to financially recover the investment and have trees all around the house. I am actually an old Mother Earth News subscriber. You may not have it in the U.K. though. It tells about all sorts of do it yourself plans for living off the grid. 

roof!

Its not difficult to DIY install although Im not au fait with the regulatory position in the USA. However if roof overshadowed by trees then PV a non starter. 

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I notice that the article carefully avoids comparing "solar panel waste" with the waste products of fossil fuel use. (Nuclear waste is also never compared to fossil fuel waste.) Coal waste in particular is measured in megatons and is nasty stuff, so each ton of "solar waste" or "wind waste" will offset many tons of fossil fuel waste. Just this week, the current administration's EPA relaxed the rules for fly ash ponds for coal plants.

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Solar panels consist of a bunch of bulk materials (glass, aluminum, copper) and a bunch of mixed electronics, some of which contain economically-recoverable elements. They are like other recycled electronic items in this regard. There is already an industry that does this for computers, cell phones, LCD displays, etc.  The solar panels will require a massive increase in this industry, which in turn will require process changes, but it is still far less waste than fossil fuels produce.

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11 minutes ago, Dan Clemmensen said:

Solar panels consist of a bunch of bulk materials (glass, aluminum, copper) and a bunch of mixed electronics, some of which contain economically-recoverable elements. They are like other recycled electronic items in this regard. There is already an industry that does this for computers, cell phones, LCD displays, etc.  The solar panels will require a massive increase in this industry, which in turn will require process changes, but it is still far less waste than fossil fuels produce.

On what, specifically do you make this claim? CO2 emissions? 

I find it interesting that in every state in the union, and offshore, any oil company has to commit, before they even drill the well to plug and abandonment. Admittedly, there are lots of operators poorly run, who are bankrupt before they get there, so every state has a P&A fund that every oilco automatically contributes to, just for this eventuality. 

Contrast with commercial PV installations, where they usually fold their tents shortly after the government hand outs run out. I used to post pictures of abandoned, weed choked installations but green wash folks at Google have been placing those into the "memory hole", never to be seen again. Why aren't PV operators required to have their own P&A type fund? 

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1 hour ago, Ward Smith said:

On what, specifically do you make this claim? CO2 emissions? 

I find it interesting that in every state in the union, and offshore, any oil company has to commit, before they even drill the well to plug and abandonment. Admittedly, there are lots of operators poorly run, who are bankrupt before they get there, so every state has a P&A fund that every oilco automatically contributes to, just for this eventuality. 

Contrast with commercial PV installations, where they usually fold their tents shortly after the government hand outs run out. I used to post pictures of abandoned, weed choked installations but green wash folks at Google have been placing those into the "memory hole", never to be seen again. Why aren't PV operators required to have their own P&A type fund? 

Flyash from a coal fired power station is about 50g/kwh (more in older plant) 

So if my 1000w of panels weighing 100Kg in total  produce 1000kwh for 25 years they offset about 1250Kg of flyash production. 

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1 hour ago, Ward Smith said:

On what, specifically do you make this claim? CO2 emissions? 

I find it interesting that in every state in the union, and offshore, any oil company has to commit, before they even drill the well to plug and abandonment. Admittedly, there are lots of operators poorly run, who are bankrupt before they get there, so every state has a P&A fund that every oilco automatically contributes to, just for this eventuality. 

Contrast with commercial PV installations, where they usually fold their tents shortly after the government hand outs run out. I used to post pictures of abandoned, weed choked installations but green wash folks at Google have been placing those into the "memory hole", never to be seen again. Why aren't PV operators required to have their own P&A type fund? 

I see no reason except inertia (and push-back from vested interests) that such a fund does not exist. Same is true for almost all industries. perhaps the most extreme case is plastics. As a society, we fail to force producers to mitigate end-of-life costs unless something very nasty and very spectacular happens, and then we react by passing laws. That's where P&A came from, along with a bunch of other examples. The fossil energy industries got nailed first because they are huge and have huge spectacular consequences, like strip mines, ash ponds, killer fogs in the 1950's, acid rain,  etc. As society becomes rich enough to pay closer attention, I hope we can clean up some of the nastier but less obvious problems that are less directly related to the fossil fuel industry.

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On 7/31/2020 at 9:20 AM, Meredith Poor said:

The solar cells and control electronics improves markedly over time. Glass, aluminum, steel, and so forth are passive, they don't change much. The only thing that needs a focused recycling effort are the cells and the inverters/power converters.

In order to do that you first have to De-Dope the whole silicon semiconductor material which is, hard, and it would cost as much, and be a process as toxic as making a new solar panel from scratch, the doping substance tends to be generally something like Antimony or Arsenic, and does the job okay, you just can't take the waffers burn it and throw it into the beaches.

95% of solar panels are silicon and glass, the next 5% is the tricky part.


if you had to ask me, once the chinese economy follows the same path in 2021-2022 as the Japanese economy in 1994 and they cut subsidies incluiding those to solar manufacturers the whole photovoltaic scheme goes down, and solar panels go back to 750U$D/KWe, the prices before 2013 when china decided to mass subsidize their manufacturers in order to get market share. And solar thermal will comeback as the only solution that had to be in the first place.

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2 hours ago, Sebastian Meana said:

In order to do that you first have to De-Dope the whole silicon semiconductor material which is, hard, and it would cost as much, and be a process as toxic as making a new solar panel from scratch, the doping substance tends to be generally something like Antimony or Arsenic, and does the job okay, you just can't take the waffers burn it and throw it into the beaches.

95% of solar panels are silicon and glass, the next 5% is the tricky part.
 

Sb and As are not that difficult to remove as they form volatile compounds that gas off (which, of course, should be collected). 

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8 hours ago, Sebastian Meana said:

if you had to ask me, once the chinese economy follows the same path in 2021-2022 as the Japanese economy in 1994 and they cut subsidies incluiding those to solar manufacturers the whole photovoltaic scheme goes down, and solar panels go back to 750U$D/KWe

That's why no one asks you. Understanding what the percentage of dopant in the semiconductor and how one separates various constituents would make it possible to come up with a cost.

https://www.bnl.gov/pv/files/pdf/art_170.pdf

Arsenic is used in GaAs cells. It is not used in silicon cells. Boron is used in borosilicate glass, otherwise known as Pyrex, which people cook food in. Phosphorous is all over the place, including LEDs, old style CRTs (TVs and computer terminals), and fertilizer. One reason it might be needed in fertilizer is because it is one of the elements making up DNA. Including your DNA.

70 cents per watt is the unsubsidized price for utility scale PV installations in the US at present.

https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/12/20/utility-scale-solar-power-as-cheap-as-75¢-per-watt-says-government-researchers/#:~:text=Installed Prices%3A Average of %241.60,~70¢%2FWdc).

This is unrelated to the cost of DIY panel installation or the price of individual cells.

Solar cells sold in the US aren't subsidized, and Chinese imports are taxed. Rooftop PV installations get tax benefits, once they're installed and operating.

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On 8/1/2020 at 10:42 AM, Dan Clemmensen said:

I notice that the article carefully avoids comparing "solar panel waste" with the waste products of fossil fuel use. (Nuclear waste is also never compared to fossil fuel waste.) Coal waste in particular is measured in megatons and is nasty stuff, so each ton of "solar waste" or "wind waste" will offset many tons of fossil fuel waste. Just this week, the current administration's EPA relaxed the rules for fly ash ponds for coal plants.

No problems, that I know of, with waste from an old natural gas plant. 

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On 7/31/2020 at 10:16 AM, ronwagn said:

So, how can the trace metals be extracted and will they be. We need laws in place IMHO. What has happened to outdated panels so far?

Landfill along with broken wind turbine blades. Both are complex materials, hopefully it isn't more expensive to blast the semiconductor surface and retrieve the rare elements than to mine them. The Silicone substrate, once blasted clean of its top layer would be valuable high quality silicone that might be recyclable into new wafers.

You might get a kick out of the fact that the new high purity polysilicone plant being built outside Toledo OH is going to be run on frac gas from the Appalachians.

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