The race is on to establish a solar panel recycling industry before the renewable energy source’s green credentials go to waste.
- Most solar panels currently end up in landfills or are sent overseas
- Wagga Wagga-based company receives a grant to establish a new recycling process
- Recycled glass from solar panels can be used in greenhouse construction
In New South Wales, it is estimated that old solar panels and batteries could generate up to 30,000 tonnes of waste a year by 2035.
With only a handful of suitable recycling facilities around the country, most panels will end up in landfill.
Victoria has banned panels from being dumped in landfills; the Clean Energy Council’s Darren Gladman said he would like to see other states follow.
“It’s too cheap and too easy to just throw a panel into a landfill, it’s harder to recycle a panel,” he said.
However, Mr Gladman said he hoped the establishment of a viable solar panel recycling industry would make such bans redundant.
“We’re so close, we’re only months away from having those factories up and running,” he said.
New process stops cross-contamination
One of the most innovative recycling solutions is coming from regional NSW.
The state’s Environmental Protection Agency has given Wagga Wagga-based company Solar Professionals close to $1 million to develop a recycling facility.
The company is working with Deakin University to deconstruct solar panel components without cross-contamination of materials.
Solar Professionals director Dan Kimber said this process, called delaminating, would allow the glass to be re-used in greenhouse manufacturing.
“As far as we know it’s one of its kind,” Mr Kimber said.
The research at Deakin University is focused on making sure the technology can be scaled up and made mobile.
This would allow for solar panels to be recycled at source, reducing transportation costs.
“We’re looking to have the semi-automated recycling facility up and running here in Wagga by the end of 2022,” Mr Kimber said.
Gold rush of solar farms
The Riverina has seen an exponential growth of solar farms in the region.
Riverina Eastern Regional Organisation of Councils (REROC) president Julie Briggs said it anticipated that close to six million solar panels would be deployed in the next five years.
“With the state government announcing the renewable energy zones around the state, I think we’re going to see solar grow even more significantly,” she said.