The problem of disposing of expired / old solar panels came across on multiple news feeds this week. Like technological gadgets that we love to buy and then throw away (regardless of where they eventually end up), these solar panels are going to create a problem – somewhere. … ‘not in my backyard goes the familiar refrain’. Once a process is created to effectively and cost neutral recycle or at least safely dispose (it’s an engineering problem right?), there’s some money to be made eventually and a planet and its people to be better protected.
Here’s the key point, quote: “Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives—and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.
But we’ll need to develop one soon, because the solar e-waste glut is coming. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life, and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually. While the latter number is a small fraction of the total e-waste humanity produces each year, standard electronics recycling methods don’t cut it for solar panels. Recovering the most valuable materials from one, including silver and silicon, requires bespoke recycling solutions. And if we fail to develop those solutions along with policies that support their widespread adoption, we already know what will happen.
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