‘When a solar panel reaches the end of its life, isn’t it just plastic waste?’
With the rapid spread of solar power generation, this concern is raised by some. The photovoltaic recycling center in Chungbuk Technopart, Jincheon-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do, visited on the 28th is a place to answer these questions. 90% of the solar modules could be recycled thrifty through the facilities that fit into a space the size of a basketball court in the center.
Dismantling and recycling new waste modules in the blink of an eye
The Solar Recycling Center was established to respond in advance to the increase in solar waste modules. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, North Chungcheong Province, and Jincheon-gun jointly built it with an investment of 18.8 billion won over five years. It was just completed on the 21st and is expected to start operating in the first half of next year.
The amount of waste modules that the recycling center can process per year reaches a maximum of 3600 tons. According to the report by the Environmental Policy Evaluation Institute, it is expected that 9665 tons of solar waste modules in 2023, 4596 tons in 2025, and 5779 tons in 2027 will be emitted. This center alone can process a significant amount of domestic waste modules.
A solar module is a rectangular plate about the size of a common window. It is made by compressing solar cells with an encapsulant and glass sheets and fixing them with an aluminum frame. A junction box, a component that transmits electricity to the outside, is attached here. Waste module recycling is the process of turning it upside down.
At the photovoltaic rehabilitation center that was temporarily operated on that day, more than 20 years later, dust-covered solar waste modules were piled up. When the machine puts the waste module on the line, the aluminum rod and junction box are automatically dismantled. Then, the blade scraped off the white sheet of paper behind the module. When entering the ‘tempered glass cell separation equipment’, ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer (EVA), etc. were removed. In the end, tempered glass, solar cells, and wire-like ribbon were left behind. The entire process was mechanized, requiring only eight people.
The glass, aluminum and plastic of the junction box are recycled. Silver, copper and silicon are recovered from solar cells and ribbons.
According to the Solar Recycling Center, two private companies in Korea are currently engaged in the recycling of waste modules. The cost is around 120,000 won per ton. Solar waste modules were mostly disposed of in landfills in the past, but recycling began in earnest around 2019.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy expects that when the Producer Responsible Recycling System (EPR) is implemented in 2023, the participation of private companies will increase, thereby revitalizing the waste module recycling market. EPR is a system that imposes an obligation to recycle waste modules on solar module manufacturers and importers, and pays recycling levies in case of non-compliance.
Solar power generation in building walls, soundproof walls, and tunnels
With the completion of the Solar Recycling Center, a virtuous cycle system has been established in the Chungbuk region of solar power production → test and evaluation → recycling.
The Hyundai Energy Solution near the recycling center visited that day was continuously producing solar modules. Hyundai Energy Solutions is introducing a product that can increase the cell size and generate double-sided power, and a photovoltaic module with no harmful substances and waterproof function so that it can be installed in a reservoir or the sea.
The demonstration project of generating solar power in building walls, soundproof walls, and tunnels has also been completed. If a solar module is attached to a city building, the advantage is that it can generate and consume electricity at the same time. However, there are some objections to the appearance of solar modules.
The building-integrated photovoltaic power generation module demonstrated by Hyundai Energy Solution was color coated on the glass in consideration of this. Five colors were developed, including blue, orange, and purple. As the surface coating reflects sunlight, the power generation efficiency is 85% of that of general modules, the company said.
In addition, the demonstration project was completed to produce 33kW and 53kW of power, respectively, by applying solar power generation modules to soundproof walls and soundproof tunnels. Hyundai Energy Solution applied modules that can generate power in front of and behind solar cells to increase power generation efficiency.
A nearby solar technology center will test and certify the solar modules produced in this way. Solar modules have to withstand all the harsh weather in midsummer, the cold wave in midwinter, the harsh climate of the desert area, and snow and rain or hail. At this center, the light reflectance of the solar module is less than 5% less than that of glass, so it is being tested to prevent glare and whether it can withstand temperatures from minus 40 to 80 degrees. A pressure test was also conducted to see if it could withstand the typhoon landing.
[ⓒ 세계일보 & Segye.com, 무단전재 및 재배포 금지]
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