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New Method Discovered to Extract Silicone from Used Solar Panels, Say Scientists

Researchers from Deakin University in Australia have successfully tested a revolutionary technique for extracting silicon from discarded solar panels and turning it into a nanomaterial worth more than $45,000 per kilogram. This technology was developed by the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM).

A Huge Development

According to lead researcher Mokhlesur Rahman, "High-value silicon is utilized to create solar panel cells, but this material cannot be re-used without purification, as it becomes extremely polluted over the 25 to 30 years of the panel's life." "We have created a procedure that, in a day, and without the use of hazardous chemicals, restores silicon gathered from used cells to higher than 99 percent purity. Compared to other methods currently available on the market, our thermal and chemical procedure is far greener, less expensive, and more effective.

The resultant nano-silicon is mixed with graphite to produce a revolutionary battery anode that has been demonstrated to ten-fold the capacity of lithium-ion batteries. With that nano-silicon, Rahman stated, "We are developing low-cost battery materials that will help deliver the higher performance, longer lasting, and affordable battery technology crucially required to fuel Australia's clean energy transition."

The Expansion of Solar Energy

The parts of solar panels that transform sunlight into electrical energy are called photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells, which are also known as solar cells, are constructed from a semiconductor. The most common semiconductor in solar cells is silicon, which makes up over 95% of the modules currently sold.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that solar PV produced 179 TWh more electricity in 2021 than the previous year, a record-breaking 22% growth. Just 32.2 TWh of solar PV energy was produced in 2010.

Where are old solar panels now being disposed of?

Other components and materials, such as a metal frame and a glass sheet, are used to construct solar panels in addition to solar cells. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the value of the recoverable raw materials from solar panels that aren't in use will reach about $450 million by 2030. (IRENA). The separation of the glass from the silicon wafer, as well as the separation and purification of the silicon cells and metals like copper, lead, silver, and tin, are all possible steps in the recycling of solar panels.

Report "Solar Photovoltaic Module Recycling: A Study of U.S. Anecdotal evidence suggests that less than 10% of PV modules are recycled in the United States, according to "Policies and Programs" by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

“This Deakin-developed technology – including purification, nano-silicon production and integration into new battery technology – is a giant leap forward in how we tackle the problem of solar panel waste,” said Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, Director of the ARC Research Hub for Safe and Reliable Energy, “Silicon recovered from end-of-life solar panels can be a massive, sustainable source of nano-silicon to meet future demand for raw battery materials. Helping to power the homes, transport and communities of the future.”

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