Are you curious about how can solar panels be recycled? While most solar panels come with a 25-year power production warranty, environmentally aware consumers often want to know what happens to solar panel modules at the end of their lifespan.
Explore what happens to solar panels when they no longer work efficiently and the process of recycling solar panels in this article.
How can solar panels be recycled?
Yes, solar panels can be recycled.
Also, as residential solar panels gradually gain popularity in Canada, the corresponding growth of solar panel recycling industries is expected to follow suit. This growth underscores the importance of addressing the question: can solar panels be recycled?
Many of the early solar panels installed in the country are only just now beginning to reach the end of their lifecycle. With this, the need for solar panel recycling in Canada is becoming more apparent.
While Canada has less experience with solar infrastructure than other countries in general, it’s positive to see that initiatives to explore how solar panels can be recycled are underway. A few examples include:
- In 2022, the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (AMRA) started a pilot program to reclaim expired solar panels.
- Several Canadian-based solar farms are actively recycling used solar panel modules, processing them through facilities in the U.S.
- Some solar panel manufacturers are exploring mobile recycling units.
At Zeno Renewables, we aim to ensure our solar panels never end up in landfills. Watch our video below to learn how we differ from most Solar Solution Companies in Canada.
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How it works: Solar panel recycling and reuse
Can solar panels be recycled through ‘mining’?
Special machinery can recycle most of the materials that make up a solar panel. Moreover, the steps involved in the solar panel recycling process include:
- Removing the aluminum frame, which is 100% reusable.
- Separating the glass, which is then about 95% reusable.
- Thermal processing at 500 degrees Celcius to evaporate small plastic components.
- Etching away silicon wafers enables smelting them, with 85% being reusable.
Another way that solar panels can be recycled is by grinding the glass, silicon, and other metals into a substance called ‘cullet’. This process can result in selling the silicon as a building material or for industrial uses.
How to ‘repurpose’ solar panels
The expensive and complicated process of recycling solar panels isn’t the only way to reuse them.
Old solar panels usually still work, just at a reduced capacity. At this point, people can reposition them and use them to power farms or agricultural equipment. So, reusing solar panels in this way is a great alternative to dumping them in landfills.
Disposing of solar panels: What are the current recycling options?
This time, the main ways to dispose of solar panels in Canada include:
International solar panel recycling
However, the lack of local recycling facilities for solar panels has meant that they’ve had to be sent out of the country for recycling. Solar panel recycling companies in Malaysia and the U.S. primarily recycle or refurbish a small number of panels this way.
Local solar panel recycling
While a few solar panel recycling initiatives have sprung up within Canada itself, the technology is still in its infancy in the country. This is largely because of the cost involved in reclaiming the materials in solar panels.
However, we’re seeing a strong shift towards local solar panel recycling practices, which we hope will continue.
To what extent can solar panels be recycled?
According to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, about 90% of the materials in solar panels are reclaimable.
The precise materials that can be extracted and repurposed depend on how the solar panel was made. Most solar panels in Canada and globally use silicon wafers, while roughly 5% of the world’s solar panels incorporate cadmium telluride.
Moreover, manufacturers predominantly make all types of solar panels from glass, which already has established recycling processes.
So, You can extract and recycle some other major materials from solar panels, including:
- Precious metals such as silver from newer products, although they may be found in older panels
Recycling solar panels for a Sustainable Future
At Zeno, we believe that embedding sustainability within every facet of our society creates a better world. Consequently, we’re big fans of the circular economy, ensuring that materials used in production never end up as waste.
The solar industry is no exception. So, the practice of recycling solar panels can enhance the positive environmental impact of solar technology.
As more and more Canadians are making the switch to solar energy, we need to ensure that solar products aren’t adding to the world’s waste issue. Encouraging further research into how solar panels can be recycled effectively is one way we hope to contribute to a brighter future for all generations.
Help us make a difference, protect the planet, and lower your electricity bill by going solar today. Reach out to our solar experts to explore your options.