January 18, 2009
Solar Panel End Of Life Disposal Problem
Solar panels are not 100% green and pure.
Solar cells may generate clean green electricity but manufacturing them involves a witches brew of toxic chemicals that could harm the environment if millions of solar panels end up in landfills, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
First off, not all the chemicals used to make photovolatics (PV) are there in the PV at the end of the manufacturing process. But, yes, at the end of the life of PV there is a valid question of how to dispose of it. My guess is that some types of PV contain enough valuable metals that melting them down to separate out the metals will be worth it.
The California environmental group is calling for solar manufacturers to take back and recycle their panels at the end of their 20-to-25 year lifespan. “We feel it’s a very important time for the solar industry because it is getting ready to take off and before that happens it’s time to look at important issues around designing out some of the toxics,” Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition executive director Sheila Davis told Green Wombat. “The big issue is whether there is a transparent supply chain and whether solar companies monitor their supply chains.”
The solar PV industry is for recycling. But does anyone see an obvious problem with the idea that manufacturers will take back the PV at end of life?
The solar industry’s trade group says it embraces the report’s recommendations. “We completely support take-back and recycling,” says Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington. “We’re in a fortunate position in that we’re still an emerging industry and have an opportunity now to establish standards and proactively set up processes before we end up with solar panels on every rooftop.”
Most of the PV manufacturers in business today won't exist 25 years from now. Some of the biggest suppliers a few decades hence will be companies that aren't even selling PV today. The take-back idea only works if the original seller exists to do the taking back. Otherwise original sellers are going to need to set aside cash in some kind of industry fund to pay for retrieval and disposal. But how to estimate the cost of doing that 25 years in advance or the rate of return of money set aside today for this purpose?
This is a fine example of creating a niche problem. Then, since problems must be solved, the solution must, in turn, be a new little domain of power for bureaucrats and environmentalists.
With the magic mind I have decoded the actual motives here:
"Oh my, if there were a lot more solar cells discarded that might be a problem. We must do something! Something like telling others what to do! Yes, that is our destiny, mission, and life's work! We are to tell others what to do!"
Instead this is the way to handle the waste problem. And I agree it is a problem.
Deal with all trash by a common method; recycling in sophisticated separation centers. And operate those with tax money.
Avoid the mistake of mini-programs and public service announcements focused on one type of waste or recycling solution. And avoid the inefficiency, ineffectual fragmentation of multiple schemes.
i.e. batteries, empty ink cartridges, fluorescent light bulbs, etc.
These multiple efforts merely confuse some. And they infuriate others who feel they are constantly being preached to. Simplify the message to this:
"Recycling and proper handling of waste is necessary and is being done as a municipal service".
Solar panels generally have a life span of 20-25 years, so most of them have not yet reached the end of their useful life. However, factory scrap, broken panels from transportation and field failures already provide recycling materials. While some manufacturing companies (Solar World, First Solar et.c.) are doing their own recycling, there are also some independent third party companies that undertake recycling tasks. Moreover, manufacturers and distributors have formed organizations for photovoltaic recycling, such as the PV CYCLE in Europe. In any case, all the necessary precautions should be taken due to the fact that some materials contained in the solar panels (silicon tetrachloride, cadmium, et.c.) are considered dangerous to the environment
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