PV disposal is quite a complicated topic as even solar panels alone are made up out of multiple materials, the recycling of which is really different. These include:
- Glass (comprising the front cover of most PV panels)
- Aluminum (frame)
- Synthetic materials used to encapsulate and seal in the silicon cells — these may include such substances as ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), polyvinyl butyral (PVB) and/or polyvinyl fluoride
- Silicon (solar cells)
- Metals such as lead, copper, gallium and cadmium
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Proper recycling of solar panels demands that these disparate materials be separated and recovered with minimal damage and loss of material. The materials can then be re-used to manufacture new panels, or for other industrial applications. For instance, glass panel fronts can be ground and used in the manufacture of insulation and other products. Even the silicon cells themselves can often be recovered and re-etched to be used again. This is significant, because the creation of new silicon cells is an energy-intensive process.
There is no PV recycling regulation on a federal level yet, except for some panels that fail the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP test) and thus are subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). California has legislation for solar panel disposal, and it's expected that other states will follow soon.
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