Clean Power 40 MW CdTe solar PV project in Germany

Published on March 28th, 2013 | by Mridul Chadha


Plant Extracts Used For Making Water Soluble Solar Panels

March 28th, 2013 by  

Solar panel manufacturers, specifically those in the developing countries, use some harmful substances like Cadmium and Selenium which may prove difficult or costly to dispose of at the end of operational life of the solar panels. Water soluble solar panels may be the ultimate solution to the problem of disposal of used solar panels.

40 MW CdTe solar PV project in Germany

40 MW CdTe solar PV project in Germany
Image Credit: JUWI Group (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University have developed solar panels based on cellulose nanocrystal substrates found in trees. According to the information published in the journal Scientific Reports, the latest open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group, these materials behave like glass and allow sunlight to pass through.

This property can help companies manufacture thin-film solar panels that use cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) as front and back panels instead of glass sheets. Such panels would use organic semiconductor material to generate electricity when exposed to sunlight.

At the end of the operational life of these panels, they can be dissolved in water within minutes.

Professor Bernard Kippelen, Director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE) highlighted the importance of recycling solar panels. Organic solar cells must be recyclable. Otherwise we are simply solving one problem, less dependence on fossil fuels, while creating another, a technology that produces energy from renewable sources but is not disposable at the end of its lifecycle, Kippelen said.

More Solar Power Means More Waste!

The disposal of used solar panels may prove a Herculean task as countries across the world continue to push for solar power infrastructure. We are expected to add about 30 GW of solar power capacity every year, most of which would be based on photovoltaics. The panels have an operational life of decades, perhaps even a century, and have warranties for 95% of original output within the first 20–25 years. According to PV CYCLE, every MW of solar panels generate 75 tonnes of waste. PV CYCLE is an European non-profit organization that ensures that its member’s photovoltaic (PV) modules are recycled. The organization represents 90% of the European solar market.

First Solar CdTe module recyclying process

First Solar CdTe module recyclying process
Image Credit: First Solar

New thin-film solar PV technologies like Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) are gaining popularity due to their high conversion efficiencies. Solar panels based on these technologies can be extremely harmful to the environment and living organisms. Manufacturers have recognized this problem and have started recycling programs.

First Solar has launched a recycling program for its CdTe solar panels. The company sets aside finances for the recycling process at the time of module sale. First Solar claims that the process can recover 90% of the glass used and 95% of the semiconductor material which can be used for manufacturing new panels.

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About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

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  • James Wimberley

    “The panels have an operational life of 20-25 years.”. Wrong. The manufacturers warranty the panels for 95% of initial output for that sort of period. The actual expected life is much longer. The output just degrades gracefully until it’s economic to replace the panel, around 40 years.

    “New thin-film solar PV technologies like Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and
    Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) are gaining popularity due to
    their high conversion efficiencies. “. Thin-film PV still yields significantly less per unit area than mono-or poly-crystalline silicon. It’s just cheaper to make. NREL historical chart of efficiency records by cell type; that’s of course for lab tests, production modules of anything lag behind by several years. For example, the lab efficiency of the workhorse polycrystalline silicon PV is around 20%, but the best panels on the market are around 16%.

    • JustSaying

      Yes using the 20 year life verse the more likely 35-40 years, is a great way to make people think that PV isn’t ready for prime time. For your home a builder “warranty” is a couple of years windows maybe 5-10; but does anyone think the home only lasts 2-10 years?

      • JustSaying

        The point being that if you get say 80% in the second 20 years that you did in the firsts. The cost per kwh produced drops by a factor of 0.55 (about half). So instead of being a grid break even you are really much cheaper. I think the PV industry needs to start pushing that. Give amounts assuming 20, 30, 40 years and people will see how much cheaper it is.

        • James Wimberley

          For a business discounting income streams at 8% or so, the second 20 years don’t make much difference to the calculation of profitability. I agree that for homeowners, the psychology of the long view becomes more important. Solar panels are a home improvement like a new bathroom or roofing, with a similar life.

    • Point taken regarding the operational life. Regarding the efficiency issue, I meant that within thin-film technologies CdTe and CIGS are gaining popularity, sorry for not being clear. Their efficiency is higher than amorphous silicon thin-film panels, as shown in the image you shared. In 2011, market share of CdTe was 59%, CIGS was 22% and a-si was 19% (Navigant Consulting). CdTe and CIGS panels pose greater environmental issues than silicon-based panels.

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