$ 15 Billion Mistake: Solar panels are not designed to be recycled

By Energy Hamd - December 07, 2021

$ 15 Billion Mistake: Solar panels are not designed to be recycled
$ 15 Billion Mistake: Solar panels are not designed to be recycled

$ 15 Billion Mistake: Solar panels are not designed to be recycled

    Billions of solar panels around the world will soon reach end of life, but when thrown away, essential materials needed to make future panels are wasted.

    80 million tonnes of total waste estimated by 2050. This represents around 4 billion panels. But these panels were not designed to reuse them, so it is likely that the majority of panels will simply be shredded during recycling.

        1. USE WASTE

    For the solar waste mentioned above, if the materials could be recovered efficiently, they would have an estimated value of $ 15 billion and could manufacture 2 billion new solar panels. It's not just financial benefits: 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the extraction, manufacture and use of goods. If the world doesn't reduce this by extracting less material from the earth, we won't be able to tackle climate change.

    It is important to alleviate the climate crisis. Semiconductors - materials widely used in computer chips - are also needed for solar panels and low-power lighting, the magnets needed for wind turbines are also needed for low-carbon vehicles. Already, some elements, like indium, are being engineered from emerging solar technologies due to supply issues.


    Mankind has developed an insatiable appetite for the consumption of materials. In 2020, an estimated 100 billion tonnes of materials were mined from the earth, of which only 8.6% was returned to the economy. As a result, this electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream on the planet with 53.6 million tonnes generated in 2019 worldwide.

    Swansea University has shown that 1.6 tonnes of e-waste was generated in the UK in 2019. This contained around 379,000 kg of critical material, with a potential value of £ 148million. Due to a lack of recycling infrastructure, poor design for end-of-life and inefficient recycling processes, the majority of these critical materials in waste will be lost.


    Better design for end-of-life, more processing and recycling infrastructure is needed to extract and reuse materials and adopt a circular economy approach. This will benefit consumers, with better design of products that last longer and are easily upgradeable or repairable.

    For emerging technologies to be truly sustainable, it is vital that the world consider extracting critical materials when a product reaches the end of its useful life.

    There is an opportunity to design emerging technologies with the circular economy in mind from the start. Waste must be seen as a resource, offering maximum benefits to society and to truly sustainable technologies.



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