The afterlife of solar panels

You might think of solar panels as a top sustainability solution. While it’s true that they’re terrific for harnessing renewable energy from the sun, photovoltaic panels have an oft-ignored downside: they are very hard to recycle. Because solar cells include heavy metals like lead and cadmium, it’s dangerous to toss them in the landfill. Unfortunately, this is where the panels often wind up once they’ve outlived their usefulness. People are still trying to figure out how to boost large-scale recycling of solar panels in a safe and cost-effective way.

What are solar panels made of?

One of the most important components of a solar panel is silicon. After oxygen, silicon is the second biggest element in our planet’s crust. There are three main approaches to making silicon into panels. Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient and expensive. Manufacturers cut individual wafers from a large silicon block and then affix the wafers to panels. This labor-intensive process produces the sleekest-looking, premium solar panels.

Polycrystalline solar cells are made by melting many silicon crystals together, then fusing them en masse onto a panel. These are blueish and are less expensive than monocrystalline panels but also less

— source | Teresa Bergen | Sep 3, 2020

Nullius in verba