The service life of billions of solar panels is about to come to an end. This will result in wastage of essential materials that are required to make future panels.
According to estimations, 78 million tonnes of essential materials for solar panels will be wasted by 2050. This amounts to roughly 4 billion panels. However, the design of the existing panels is not conducive to extract elements from them easily to be used again. Therefore, it li likely that majority of panels will just end up for shredding in recycling. This contaminates materials to make them difficult to recover.
Globally, there is desperate need to design electronics for the easy extraction of materials. This can allow them to be reused in new products and avoid waste. If the way materials is used in not changed then it is going to limit the much needed deployment of renewable and climate-friendly technologies for the following generations and to alleviate climate change. The materials that will be required will be lost in the waste created by us.
If material could be efficiently recovered by solar waste they would have an estimated value of US$ 15 billion and could make 2 billion new solar panels. The benefits are more than this. 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with extraction, manufacture, and consumption of goods. If this does not reduce in the world by digging less materials from the Earth, tackling climate change will be challenging.
In fact, it is important to avoid a situation where technologies will compete for materials, limiting deployment and debilitating the society’s ability to alleviate the climate crisis.