As solar energy becomes increasingly integral to the global power infrastructure, recycling efforts are crucial in terms of managing the growing volume of decommissioned panels. The process typically involves the separation and recovery of materials such as glass, aluminum, and silicon, which can be reused in the production of new solar panels and other products. As per Inkwood Research, the global solar panel recycling market is estimated to grow with a CAGR of 12.82% during the forecast period of 2023 to 2032.
In addition to reducing the demand for raw materials, the sustainable approach helps prevent the release of potentially harmful substances found in solar panels. Accordingly, as per a recent report, recyclable materials from PV panels at the culmination of their lifespan are estimated to be worth over $2.7 billion in the year 2030, indicating an increase from $170 million in 2022. The trend is expected to accelerate in the upcoming years, with the value of recyclable materials projected to reach $80 billion by 2050.
Solar Panel Recycling’s Contribution to Global Sustainability –
Waste Reduction – Approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste was generated globally in 2020.
By comparison, solar panel waste accounts for no more than 72,160 metric tonnes, representing only 0.1% of total e-waste today. However, the amount of global waste from solar panels is projected to rise significantly over the next 20 years. In this regard, solar panel recycling helps minimize the amount of electronic waste entering landfills. Considering the growing use of solar energy worldwide, recycling contributes to reducing the environmental footprint associated with the disposal of end-of-life solar panels, promoting a more circular economy.
Energy & Economic Efficiency – The value of recovered raw materials from solar panels could increase cumulatively up to $450 million by 2030. (Source: International Renewable Energy Agency)
Solar panel recycling embodies the principles of a circular economy by closing the loop on the life cycle of solar panels. Instead of following a linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model, recycling encourages the reuse of materials, fostering sustainability by extending the lifespan and value of resources.
Moreover, as the use of solar energy continues to grow, recycling ensures that the environmental benefits of solar power are not compromised by the negative impacts of improper disposal. This contributes to the overall sustainability of the renewable energy sector.
Environmental Protection – Recycling prevents potentially hazardous materials present in solar panels, such as cadmium and lead, from entering the environment
This protects ecosystems and human health, aligning with global sustainability goals related to environmental conservation and the reduction of toxic substances. Accordingly, research has consistently demonstrated the importance of recycling cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar panels, which contain cadmium. Improper disposal of CdTe panels could potentially contribute to cadmium pollution. In addition to preventing the introduction of cadmium into the environment, recycling these panels also conserves valuable materials for future use.
Solar Panel Recycling Market | Looking Ahead
Recycling is the most sustainable solution in which solar panels can be handled at the end of their useful life, not only from an environmental and social impact perspective but also in terms of resource and economic efficiency. The recovered materials can serve in the production of new solar panels or be sold into global commodity markets, hence increasing the security of future raw material supply. Hence, this aspect is set to play a pivotal role in boosting the growth of the global solar panel recycling market in the upcoming years.
The recycling process typically involves several steps, including the removal of the panel’s frame, the separation of different materials through mechanical or thermal processes, and the recovery of valuable components like silicon. The goal is to maximize the reuse of materials and minimize waste.
Solar panels typically have a lifespan of 25-30 years. Recycling should be considered when panels reach the end of their life cycle or if they are damaged beyond repair.