Solarge solar panels, image courtesy of Solarge

Solarge Debuts Lightweight Fully Recyclable Solar Panels

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Solarge, a Netherlands-based manufacturer, has introduced what it calls the world’s first 100% recyclable solar panel.

On its website, the company says, “The current generation of solar panels still has a number of disadvantages. A paradigm shift is now needed to harvest the full potential of solar energy. The unique properties of our future-proof solar panels are:

  • Ultra-low carbon solar footprint: 80% better than conventional modules (in the new factory)
  • Fully recyclable and circular, thanks to the ease of dismantling at the end of the product life cycle
  • Can be made entirely from bio-based polymers or recycled polymers. The module manufacturing process will have a negative carbon footprint
  • More than 50% lighter in weight than standard PV modules
  • Does not contain toxic materials such as PFAS

Honeycombs & Solar Panels

The reduction in weight comes largely as a result of a collaboration with EconCore, a world leader in economic honeycomb sandwich material production technology. On its website, it says it provides technology for the continuous production of honeycomb sandwich materials.

“The unique ability to produce rigid but lightweight panels within a cost-efficient, integrated high-volume production process is licensed by several companies over the world. The fast, versatile, continuous thermoplastic honeycomb production process allows users to produce sandwich materials for various applications including automotive, transportation, building and construction, industrial packaging/graphical displays, furniture and many others at minimal cost, weight and environmental impact.”

Since early 2018, EconCore and Solarge have worked intensively to develop next generation lightweight solar panels. The reduction in weight comes primarily from replacing the glass typically used to protect the solar cells from hail and the feet of installers with lightweight honeycomb materials supplied by EconCore. The result is a fully recyclable alternative to traditional, non-sustainable materials. A panel measuring just over 2.66 square meters weighs 14.5 kg. A similar size traditional panel with a glass top cover weighs 28 kg.

EconCore uses a composite honeycomb structure bonded to a polymer top sheet to replace the glass used in conventional solar panels. Honeycombs are very strong and very rigid for a given weight or density. They also can distribute stress from impacts throughout its structure, something glass used in traditional panels does not do well. The honeycomb material developed by EconCore is itself made from recycled plastic material and can be recycled as needed.

The glass top layer of conventional panels also needs an aluminum frame around it. The new panels from Solarge do not, thanks to the top sheet of polymer and honeycomb being bonded directly to the substrate below where the solar cells are located. That means there is no glass and no aluminum in the Solarge panels that needs to be recycled.

Other advantages of the new Solarge fully recyclable solar panels are that they are more resistant to UV radiation and have much better heat conductivity than glass panels. Solar panels are less efficient as temperature increases and honeycomb delivers a more effective means of controlling temperatures.

Tomasz Czarnecki, CEO of EconCore, says, “Solar power is an important mechanism to strip carbon out of energy production. It’s a simple equation — the more solar panels we can deploy, the more solar energy we can harness, the greater the protection against climate change. Making photovoltaics lighter, cheaper, and more efficient means many more buildings will be able to be harnessed to produce solar energy, and every roof that is limited by weight will be able to take more panels. And these panels are sustainable — this has huge potential in the battle against climate change.”

Huib van den Heuvel, CCO at Solarge adds: “We see a huge potential in rooftop application in the commercial & industrial building segment and the agricultural sector for lightweight solar panels, all over the world. Compared to glass based solar panels the production of this composite product is very easily scalable. We value the collaboration with ThermHex Waben as a manufacturing partner that supports our ambitious growth plans.”

The new Solarge lightweight recyclable solar panels will be introduced at the JEC World trade show in Paris on April 25.

Recycling Solar Panels

In March, we reported on SolarCycle, a California company founded by Jesse Simons, a former Sierra Club executive. He says solid waste landfills typically charge $1 to $2 to accept a solar panel. That rises to around $5 if the material is deemed hazardous waste. By contrast, SolarCycle charges $18 per panel. That’s a lot of money. Simons says companies are willing to pay what SolarCycle charges because they may be unable to find a landfill that is licensed to accept hazardous waste and assume legal liability for it, and because they want to minimize the environmental impact of their old solar panels.

SolarCycle is one of only five companies in the US listed by the SEIA as capable of providing recycling services. The industry remains in its infancy and is still figuring out how to make money from recovering and then selling panel components. “Elements of this recycling process can be found in the United States, but it is not yet happening on a large scale,“ the EPA said in a recent overview of the industry.

In 2016, the International Renewable Energy Agency forecast that by the early 2030s, the global quantity of decommissioned solar panels will equal about 4% of the number of installed panels. By the 2050s, the volume of solar panel waste will rise to at least 5 million metric tons a year. China, the world’s biggest producer of solar energy, is expected to have retired a cumulative total of at least 13.5 million metric tons of panels by 2050 — the largest quantity among major solar panel producing nations and nearly twice the volume retired in the US by that time.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is deeply involved in developing ways to recycle solar panels.“Responsible and cost-effective management of PV system hardware is an important business and environmental consideration,” said Taylor Curtis, sustainability analyst at NREL. “Repair, reuse, or recovery of this equipment would reduce negative environmental impacts, reduce resource constraints, and stimulate U.S. economic growth.”

NREL expects the market for recovered PV materials from modules alone in the US could total $60 million by 2030 and $2 billion by 2050. It says PV recycling could increase supply chain stability and resource security, decrease manufacturing costs, enhance a company’s green reputation, provide new revenue streams, add tax benefits, and create more employment opportunities in renewable energy industries.

The Takeaway

We have no way of knowing whether the new fully recyclable solar panels from Solarge will be commercially successful. There is no information available from the company about cost or efficiency — those are things CleanTechnica readers will be interested in.

However, the prospect of solar panels that weigh 50% less, have 80% fewer carbon emissions during the manufacturing process, contain no PFAS materials, and are 100% recyclable does sound like something we would like to know more about. We have reached out to Solarge to learn more and will update this story if we have new information to share with our readers. Of if you are in Paris later this month, you could stop by the JEC World trade show and ask questions for us. There could be a CleanTechnica coffee mug in it for you!

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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