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The latest research shows that landfilling of old solar panels may be safe for humans.

Solar panels

This is the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to recover materials from used photovoltaic panels and wind blades, but doing so is still very expensive.

The International Energy Agency's photovoltaic power generation system project * will release a research report later this year, showing that when people are increasingly concerned about the disposal of renewable energy components, it is possible to safely land solar panels.

There are many recycling options for solar panels, but none are perfect. The challenges faced by wind turbine blades are even greater.

Garvin Heath, senior author of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Resource and Sustainability Research Group, said that IEA PVPS research has shown that placing solar panels in landfills does not affect humans. Not good for health.

As part of the IEA PVPS Task 12 Sustainability Research Campaign, the study will be released in a few months. The study will examine the worst-case potential impact on human health, which involves unlined landfills. Water seepage can affect crushed parts. .

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The study is limited to the main pollutants in today ’s three major categories of solar panels: crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS). The pollutants studied were lead, cadmium and selenium.

"When we check these conditions, in the worst case, none of them exceeds the health check threshold, which means that they are considered not to have potentially large enough risks, so you do not want a more detailed health risk assessment," Heath Said.

He emphasized that the study has not completed its peer review process and did not cover all potential toxic substances in each module.

However, given that real-life waste treatment options may be safer than those simulated in the study (for example, all modern landfills have lining), the study indicates good prospects because the renewable energy industry has How to cope with the increasing waste generated by scrapped assets in landfills.

Recycling options

for solar energy For now, transporting old panels to a landfill is one of several options for disposal. Unqualified but still usable panels may be sold on the secondary market.

Waste paper that is damaged or too old to be used can be recycled, but at least in the United States, traditionally solar energy recycling options are limited.

First Solar uniquely has a long-term recycling program that can recycle up to 90% of cadmium telluride thin film modules. However, in most cases, mainstream glass, metal or electronic waste recycling facilities have already processed the more common crystalline silicon modules.

"The challenge is that it is not their main product line, and [so far] there are not many recyclable photovoltaic modules, so they eventually have to store them for some time until they can be run in batches." Heath said .

"This works, but it is not a fully integrated or high-value recycling process that can extract all trace materials."

However, efforts are being made to improve the problem.

In September last year, PV Cycle, a Brussels-based waste management nonprofit organization, announced a partnership with an American company called Recycle PV Solar, "to rapidly improve national management of ... abandoned solar panels."

Recycling PV Solar said that solar photovoltaics started recycling services in 2018, at which time it is estimated that 90% of retired US solar panels will be landfilled.

Elsewhere, the American Solar Energy Industry Association has developed a plan to reduce the number of recycled panels and inverters by aggregating waste collection and transporting old or damaged products to a select group of recyclers to achieve economies of scale. And the cost of other solar equipment.

We Recycle Solar, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, appears to be one of more and more companies dedicated to recycling in the solar industry.

The company has operations in the United States, Belgium, Japan and South Korea, with a global daily processing equipment capacity of 100,000 pounds.

In addition, Alex Hobson, vice president of communications for the American Renewable Energy Council (ACORE), said: "At the state level, Washington, New York, and California have plans to encourage and regulate photovoltaic panels. Recycling. "

Big ideas in Europe, few in number

Despite this, the United States still lags behind Europe in solar energy recycling. In the EU, according to the 2012 Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, a recycling program for solar cell modules and inverters must be established and recycled.

"According to the WEEE Directive, PV modules belong to the category of e-waste, with a recovery target of 85%, of which 80% is reuse and recycling," said Kristina Thoring, Director of Communications, SolarPower Europe Industry Agency.

Even under this regulatory pressure, like the United States, in Europe, cost-effective solar energy recovery is still a challenge, because most photovoltaic panels are still in use.

It is expected that the modules that enter the market today will last for 30 years, and since almost no solar energy was installed in Europe before 2000, there are still only a small number of recyclable scrap panels.

In addition, the European solar market did not really take off until 2008, so most photovoltaic equipment used in Europe today will not enter the waste stream until around 2040. Nonetheless, since 2007, PV Cycle has been working to improve the recycling of solar energy in Europe.

Solin said that in the past ten years, the agency has organized the collection and treatment of more than 33,000 tons of photovoltaic panel waste, equivalent to about half a GW of solar power.

With the opening of dedicated facilities operated by the French waste management company Veolia, the European solar energy recycling capacity was improved in 2018.

The crystalline silicon panel recycling plant claims that the material recovery rate reaches 95%, and eventually it is expected to process more than 4,000 tons per year.

Before more such plants come online, the weight of old panels accounts for 85% to 90% of glass and aluminum, which helps the recycling of solar panels. This means that they can be recycled relatively easily in traditional recycling facilities, although at a certain cost.

Solve the problem of wind power blades

, but not for fiberglass wind turbine blades. Although blades are not as hazardous to health as solar panels, the size of blades is considered a challenge when handling.

In February, a Bloomberg report stated that US wind power operators send 8,000 blades to landfills every year. The report says that although 85% of wind turbine components can be recycled or reused, fiberglass blades are still difficult to dispose of.

Eric Goetz, CTO of Goetz Composites, thinks he has the answer. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association, he has been studying how to dispose of the fiberglass and epoxy-based hulls of the members' old ships.

As a result, the association embarked on what Goetz said in 2016 was the first pilot project in the United States to convert fiberglass hulls into cement. The silica in the glass fiber is used to produce aggregates when the epoxy resin is burned, thereby helping to offset the energy required for the process.

Goetz said the plan processed 18 tons of hulls last year. He believes that the same process can be used to recycle US wind turbine blades made from similar materials.

He told GTM: "I think this is an emerging solution, although obviously we need to study it in depth."

The leaves turn into concrete

ideas will turn into concrete ideas blades from Germany, international building materials giant LafargeHolcim since the mid-2000s has been recovered by the wind turbine components business unit called Geocycle of.

Last July, the concept was also supported by WindEurope, the European Chemical Industry Council, Cefic and the European Composites Industry Association. These agencies have joined together to help recover 2.5 million tons of composite materials tied into European wind turbine blades.

"Today, the composite material is commercially recovered through cement co-processing technology, in which the glass fiber and filler in the composite material partly replace the cement raw material, and the organic part replaces coal as fuel," Cefic Media said. note.

Cement production is not the only recycling option for scrapped blades.

In January last year, Global Fiberglass Solutions, headquartered in Bothell, Washington, announced the opening of a recycling plant in Sweetwater, Texas, to convert turbine blades into thermoplastic glass fiber pellets for injection molding and extrusion manufacturing processes.

In addition, ACORE's Hobson said: "You have a leading company like Vestas, which has plans to eliminate non-recyclable waste from the manufacture, operation and end-of-life of its wind turbines by 2040."

Francesco Miceli, a civil engineer based in Hamburg, Germany, reviewed the blade disposal plan in June last year, which also included incineration and decomposition due to heat, solvents or mechanical processes.

Miselli said that although cement manufacturing is considered the most viable of all, "I would say that there is no absolute best solution."

The problem with renewable energy is that, where allowed, landfilling is still the cheapest way to get rid of old parts. At least this is not a health hazard-as recycling increases, soon it may not even be the most cost-effective option.

Correction: The article originally stated that this research was done by the IEA. In fact, this research was done by the International Energy Agency's Photovoltaic Power System Program (a technical cooperation program of the IEA), not by the IEA itself.

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