The Czech Republic is experiencing a solar boom, and according to experts, there will be even more small power plants using solar energy in the future. In total, there are now 130,000 photovoltaic power plants in the country, which includes even the smallest ones that people have on the roofs of their houses.
Interest in them is rising along with rising energy prices. But there is a problem with old solar panels.
By recycling 90 percent of the panels, the requirements of current legislation are met, but the Czech Republic has pledged to end landfilling by 2030. Wafers have thus far represented an imaginary waste time bomb
The mobile phone route did not work out
The massive glass and aluminum frame are easily removed during recycling. There are uses for both materials. But the problem is with the small conductive part in the middle of the panel, called the wafer. It is sealed in polymer and contains silver, silicon, tin and zinc.
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It can be conceptually disassembled chemically, when the individual metals are separated. This is how mobile phones are recycled. But they contain small particles of gold, so this method pays off economically there.
However, the profit of silver from solar energy in this way is not economically worth it. “Wafer burning is also not a solution. With regard to fluorinated polymers in wafers, this would essentially be an ecological disaster,” pointed out project leader Jaromír Wasserbauer from the BUT Faculty of Chemistry.
Instead of the method of disassembling wafers, the researchers came up with a novel solution. They just turn the wafers into scrap and add to them the chips created during the machining of aluminum. Everything is first pressed together into tablets – and then baked together into a puck. They will find use in the foundry industry.
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“We realized that all the metals contained in the wafers could be used to improve the properties of aluminum alloys. Foundry companies melt the pucks in the right ratio with aluminum and can use them to produce, for example, new engine blocks or gearboxes,” added Wasserbauauer.
Now scientists are looking for a way to similarly recycle state-of-the-art solar panels that do not contain silver, but other elements: copper, indium, gallium, selenium, sulfur or zinc.
Three to four tons of solar panels are disposed of daily in the Czech Republic. But the photovoltaic boom in the country only happened in 2010, so problems with old solar panels are yet to arise.
By recycling 90 percent of the panels, the requirements of current legislation are met, but the Czech Republic has pledged to end landfilling in 2030, so wafers have been an imaginary waste time bomb for it until now.
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