Toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium and gallium (di), copper indium and gallium (di) selenide, selenide, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride. In addition, silicon tetrachloride, a by-product of crystalline silicon production, is highly toxic. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking the entire panel. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony.
Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. When these panels enter landfills, valuable resources are wasted. And because solar panels contain toxic materials, such as lead, that can leak out as they decay, landfills also create new environmental hazards. A solar cell is made of two types of semiconductors, called p-type and n-type silicon.
P-type silicon is produced by adding atoms such as boron or gallium that have one less electron in their external energy level than silicon. Because boron has one less electron than is needed to form bonds with surrounding silicon atoms, an electron vacancy or “hole” is created. In a 2003 study, researchers highlighted the fact that cadmium is the benefactor of a special environmental treatment, which allows solar energy to be more economically efficient (insofar as that word applies perfectly to solar energy, even in the current state of subsidies). Bloomberg recently reported that the biggest mistake made by the renewable energy industry was the promise that wind and solar energy would always be cheaper.
This recycling and waste management fund could help nations address their other e-waste problems and, at the same time, support the development of a new high-tech industry dedicated to the recycling of solar panels. The fact that these initiatives are unsustainable because of their size and the enormous amount of maintenance they require, or that the infrastructure needed to bring this energy to the whole world is simply unimaginable is irrelevant for those who dream of a solar future. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their useful life and that the world will generate around 6 million metric tons of new solar electronic waste per year. Stanford magazine also points out that solar energy has a higher carbon footprint than wind and nuclear energy.
Beyond the clear misallocation of resources and the distortions of energy market prices, there is another environmental problem associated with solar panels. That figure includes solar panels that have reached the end of their useful life, but also those that were removed prematurely because they were damaged during a storm, had some type of manufacturing defect, or were replaced by a newer, more efficient model. The problem with attributing responsibility for the recycling or long-term storage of solar panels to manufacturers, says insurance actuary Milliman, is that it increases the risk of more financial bankruptcies, such as those affecting the solar industry over the past decade. California is determining how to divert solar panels from landfills, which is where they currently go, at the end of their useful life.
Since there are few environmental journalists willing to report on anything other than the good news about renewable energy, it has been environmental scientists and leaders in the solar industry who must sound the alarm. Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable energy that will play an essential role in the fight against climate change. Given the decentralized nature of solar energy production and the lack of technical expertise at the local level, it is especially important that all society be involved to protect themselves from exposure to dangerous toxins. In recent years, concern has increased about what happens to solar panels at the end of their useful life.
Beyond the inefficient use of these resources from the start (in the process of producing crystalline silicon from silicon, up to 80 percent of raw silicon is lost), there are numerous human health problems directly related to the manufacture and disposal of solar panels. .