Researchers have developed a new method to make it easier to recycle old solar panels. This could make the technology even more environmentally friendly.

As part of the energy transition, the popularity of solar systems has increased significantly. This is because the production of electricity from the sun is cheaper than almost any other energy source and is also an option for your own home. But recycling discarded panels carries risks.

Some methods pose a risk to the environment. However, a new recycling process could make this process more environmentally friendly in the future. Environmentalists are also increasingly calling for better recycling of the panels.

Most solar modules are made of valuable raw materials such as silicon, aluminum and silver. Although these materials do not pose a direct threat to the environment, the recycling methods currently used create new risks.

Recycling of solar systems: New method eliminates toxic waste

Many methods produce toxic waste through the use of nitric acid. Researchers at Wuhan University therefore considered the extent to which new approaches could reduce this risk. The result is a method that produces no toxic waste and is significantly more energy efficient.

The approach is based on a short chemical treatment that separates the bonds between the layers of the modules, leaving most of the materials intact. The process begins with removing the aluminum frame and glass cover.

Machines melt these parts down, allowing them to be reused in new panels. The team then treated the cells with a mixture of sodium and potassium hydroxide. This created chemical reactions that both corrode and separated the components from each other.

By 2050, 80 million tons of solar waste will be generated annually

The researchers tested various conditions, from spraying the cells to immersing them at different temperatures. They decided on immersing them in the caustic solution for two seconds, followed by a brief heating to 200 degrees Celsius. The short exposures caused the layers to separate.

At the same time, the individual materials remained intact. The new process could play an important role in the future, as the number of solar cells to be recycled is increasing rapidly. Experts expect that 80 million tons of solar module waste will be generated annually by 2050. The new method offers a promising solution to tackle this problem efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way.

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