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.
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.
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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