The increasing number of PV installations brings up the necessity to handle the end-of-life management of solar panels. It has encouraged the recycling market, which offers profitable opportunities with environmental responsibility. In this blog, you will learn how to start a solar panel recycling business and understand the associated costs.
How to Start a Solar Panel Recycling Business
With rising e-waste from old solar panels, the solar PV sector faces challenges but also sees vast opportunities. As waste disposal rules become stricter, emphasize the need for sustainable panel management. Starting a solar panel recycling business highlights reusing panels and minimizing environmental harm, making recycling a key aspect of solar energy’s sustainable progression.
Here is a detailed guide on how to start a solar panel recycling business covering market analysis, financial considerations, and other factors contributing to its recycling potential.
1. The Business Perspective
A. Market Landscape and Collaborations:
The primary targets for the solar panel recycling market are homes, businesses, waste management companies, and solar panel producers. Although initial efforts may concentrate on a small area, the ultimate goal is to reach a larger customer base.
A thorough examination of competitors is essential for establishing a distinct position in this rapidly expanding field. Collaborations with waste management companies and solar panel manufacturers can help to improve efficiency and lower costs.
B. Finances and Infrastructure:
Approaching potential investors and obtaining grants is a great option for early funding, with revenue streams generated by recycling fees and the sale of recovered products. The business relies on an efficient infrastructure for energy efficiency, waste management, and smooth production. In addition, acquiring the required recycling equipment and establishing an efficient material collection and delivery network is essential.
Additionally, check out Why is Sustainable Development Important for Economic Growth?
C. Marketing & Technological Advancements:
Marketing efforts will include social media campaigns, online ad placements, and participation at industry conferences and expos. Meanwhile, there will be a focus on utilizing modern recycling technology to ensure operational accuracy and effectiveness.
D. Vision for the Future:
In the short term, the key focus is on developing strong relationships and meeting initial revenue goals. However, the main goal is to increase the company’s regional and national reach, placing it as an industry leader in the long run.
2. Understanding Solar Panels
A. Solar Panel Longevity:
Solar panels can last between 25 and 30 years if properly maintained. Nonetheless, the expanding industry is generating more cost-effective panels with a 5-year life expectancy. On the plus side, most of these panels’ components are recyclable, sparking recycling businesses that bridge the gap between panel utility and green disposal.
B. Types of Solar Panels:
- Silicon-based panels (Monocrystalline And Polycrystalline)
- Thin-film panels
C. Material Composition:
- Silicon-based panels: Metal (1%), Silicon (5%), Aluminium (8%), Plastic (10%), Glass (76%).
- Thin-film panels: Metal (1%), Aluminium (6%), Plastic (4%), Glass (89%).
You can also go through our blog – Can Solar Panels be Recycled?
3. Understanding Recycling Processes & Potential
A. Materials in Solar Panels and Recycling:
- Crystalline silicon is valuable in the heavy metal industry.
- Glass from panels can be reused in the glass industry.
- Aluminum components can be processed at aluminum plants.
- Crushed cables and connectors are recycled into copper particles.
- Plastics that have been discarded can be used as energy sources.
B. Ecological Commitment:
The environmental concerns and waste connected with solar panels can be considerably reduced by employing proper disposal strategies.
4. Key Recycling Processes
A. Silicon-based Solar Panel Recycling:
- Begin recycling by disassembling the panel to extract aluminum and glass components, including aluminum frames and junction boxes.
- Crush the remaining components like glass and cells into small fragments.
- Separate and classify materials using a leach drum and vibrating screen.
- 95% of the glass and 100% of the metal can be recycled; separated materials include EVA components and glass.
- Use thermal processing to heat the remaining components to around 500 degrees, leading to the evaporation of small plastic bits.
- Approximately 80% of the evaporated plastic bits can be reused and also serve as a heat source in subsequent processes.
- Silicon wafers are exposed, acid-etched, and melted for reuse, achieving a repurpose rate of 85% of the silicon, but 15% typically goes to waste.
B. Thin-film Solar Panel Recycling:
- Chemical methods remove materials from non-silicon PV modules, with recoverability of up to 95% of components.
- Panels undergo tearing and hammer-milling to achieve particle sizes of 4-5mm, breaking down the lamination.
- After separation, materials in both liquid and solid forms are differentiated using a rotary screw.
- Liquids are subsequently managed through a precipitation procedure.
- Residues from this step undergo further treatment to extract semi-conductive components.
- Semi-conductive materials are separated using a vibrating technique.
- After a rinsing process, the primary residue is glass, with recovery rates being 95% for semi-conductive material and 90% for glass.
C. Recovery, Repurposing, and Innovative Recycling Approaches:
Recycled aluminum from solar panels can be repurposed for furniture, smartphones, or new panel frames. Silicon cells can be reused for new solar cells. The majority of the materials from old panels can be reused to make new ones.
With modern methods, over 80% of a panel’s materials, including glass, aluminum, silicon, and copper, can be recycled. To prevent old solar panels from being added to landfills, a comprehensive recycling system is essential, encompassing material collection, specialized machinery, and resource marketing.
Therefore, the guide on how to start a solar panel recycling business highlights tremendous potential in expanding employment opportunities while balancing environmental concerns with profitability. Nevertheless, it’s important to know the challenges, which we’ll explore further in this blog.
What are the Challenges of Solar Panel Recycling in India?
As you are already aware of how to start a solar panel recycling business, you must know that India’s progress towards renewable energy is challenged by solar panel recycling issues. As the adoption of solar PV increases, so does the waste from used panels and those with manufacturing defects. The challenges of recycling solar panels in India are as follows:
1. Environmental and Technical Issues
Composition of Complex Materials:
Solar panels are made of intricate materials that are challenging to separate for recycling, it classified as hazardous waste in India. Improper management, especially under environmental exposure, can release harmful compounds. Hazardous metals like lead, cadmium, and tellurium from broken panels can contaminate the environment. It’s essential to monitor potential metal leaks and establish effective end-of-life management for panels.
Also See: Will a Cracked Solar Panel Still Work?
2. Obstacles in Infrastructure, Institutions, and the Economy
A. Infrastructure Crisis:
India’s lack of suitable infrastructure for recycling solar panels, combined with a reliance on specific module types, underscores the need for domestic R&D.
B. Informal Sector Participation:
A significant portion of PV waste is informally managed, often by scrap dealers, leading to environmental degradation. There’s a limited market for recycled PV waste due to a lack of incentives. Clearer rules in e-waste guidelines would simplify its handling.
C. Low Material Value:
Even though a significant component of a PV panel is recyclable, the majority of its value is concentrated in a small fraction of its weight.
D. High Processing Expenses:
The high processing costs put additional pressure on recycling economics, necessitating initiatives to improve efficiency and save on expenditures.
Cross-Reference: Solar Panels Face Recycling Challenge
Solutions to the Recycling Challenges
Despite the obstacles, recycling and controlling PV waste are critical in the development of sustainable energy. Here are some solutions to address the challenges associated with recycling processes.
A. Technological Advancements: India must promote local PV waste recycling technologies, backed by the necessary infrastructure and funding. Developing low-cost mechanical and thermal recycling techniques can improve material recovery while lowering expenses.
B. Collaboration Action: Collaboration among various stakeholders, ranging from government officials to manufacturers, may help in the development of environmentally and economically effective recycling systems.
C. Frameworks for Regulation: Following regulations that emphasize resource efficiency and encourage design-for-recycling in new panels can greatly benefit the industry. Implementing strategies like extended producer responsibility, advance-recycling fees, and incentives can help to improve effective solar panel waste management and recover precious components such as silicon, glass, and silver.
D. Government Assistance: Under initiatives such as Atmanirbhar, the government can provide specialized money for solar panels and cell recycling, encouraging entrepreneurs and start-ups to develop local solutions.
Therefore, for viable and eco-friendly solar panel recycling in India, a comprehensive plan is required. This should include awareness campaigns, improved infrastructure, clear regulations, innovation incentives, and collaborative strategies.
Cross-Reference: How a French start-up is recycling Europe’s solar panels
How Much Does it Cost to Recycle Solar Panels?
The cost of recycling solar panels can vary widely based on geographical location and prevailing practices. In the United States, recycling a photovoltaic (PV) panel typically ranges from $15 to $45 per panel. In contrast, landfill disposal costs around $1 to $5 per panel.
There are compelling reasons to opt for recycling over disposal. As discarded panels accumulate, they pose significant environmental risks. Beyond the environmental aspect, recycling can also offer profitability. The materials recovered from old panels could be valuable enough to manufacture many new panels. The value of these materials could rise significantly over time, allowing for the manufacturing of even more panels.
While the upfront cost to recycle solar panels is high, they’re expected to decline, similar to how solar panel costs have dropped. Promoting global recycling blends environmental responsibility with financial advantages, aided by incentives like the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Feed-in Tariff (FiT) programs. Ultimately, the ability to recycle ensures the sustainability of solar energy in the long run.
Starting a solar panel recycling business in India can be challenging. However, with careful planning and dedication, this business can be profitable while also contributing to environmental sustainability. For more content on sustainable practices, keep exploring our blogs.