This is one of the few disadvantages of solar power – solar panels have a lifespan of around 10-30 years, after which they usually end up in landfill.
It is estimated that around 100,000 tonnes of this product could end up in landfills around Australia over the next decade – and a million tonnes by the 2040s – as part of the ongoing transition to renewable energies.
Some Australian governments have sought to address the issue, with Victoria in 2019 banning the dumping of solar panels in landfills.
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And rightly so, because it’s a “big deal”, according to waste management expert Pablo Ribeiro Dias.
“Landfill panels have two major implications,” Ribeiro Dias, PhD in Engineering, told 7NEWS.com.au.
“The first is that the panels are designed to last a long time and be safe for the environment while in operation. But once you bury the panels and break them, you start creating the possibility of releasing toxic components that ‘they contain.
“Most panels use lead-tin solder and lead can therefore end up contaminating the environment if not properly recycled or contained.
“The second implication is that a solar panel contains a lot of valuable materials that could be fed back into the economy if the panels are properly recycled – examples are copper, aluminum and silver.
“Of course, that’s not the case if they’re landfilled.”
The second problem is to know where the private sector intervenes.
An Australian company not only thinks it has the solution, but can profit from it.
The relatively new Solar Recovery Corporation (SRC) is shipping $3.2 million equipment from Europe designed to extract materials from solar panels for recycling.
“We cannot afford to lose these valuable materials,” said SRC chief executive Rob Gell.
“Just silicon, we can recover a little more than 1 kg on each solar panel.
“It’s, frankly, good economics and not something Australia has been at the forefront of.”
The equipment developed by the Italian company La Mia Energia has been operating for about 10 years.
SRC is looking to bring the technology to Australia for the first time.
The company hopes to be operational in August and has targeted central Queensland to open a factory.
Gell believes the machine will be able to process around 180,000 panels a year – a number that will allow the company to import more devices.
“It’s going to be a bit of a chicken and egg process – we’ll get the first one up and running and it’ll generate revenue from the materials we recover, which means we can grow the business and provide capacity elsewhere” , did he declare.
“It will be a profitable business and we are very comfortable with that. We will profit from the resale of the materials we collect.
“We are not doing this as a public service. We intend to make a profit.
He thinks other states should follow Victoria’s lead in banning the signs from being buried.
Ribeiro Dias also saw the potential of the solar panel recycling sector by creating the company SOLARCYCLE which will initially target the American market.
However, he welcomed the competition in the market given the problem to be solved.
“All of these moves the industry is making to create the recycling infrastructure are good steps,” he said.
“We need these players to start operating to overcome the learning curves that come with any new market/technology so they are ready to take on the tsunami of signs that are starting to appear.
“It’s good to remember that the solar industry has grown exponentially, which also translates into exponential growth in waste.”