From old solar panels to new batteries: scientists turn trash into treasure

The NTU Singapore approach demonstrated a higher recovery rate and purity than present silicon recovery technologies. Credit: NTU Singapore

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could take something old and make it brand new again?

That’s exactly what scientists from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU Singapore) have done.

They’ve found a way to take used solar panels and turn them into materials for batteries in electric cars.

Solar panels are great for generating clean energy from the sun, but they don’t last forever. Usually, after about 25 to 30 years, they wear out and have to be thrown away.

The problem is that these old panels are hard to recycle because they contain various materials like aluminum, copper, and high-quality silicon all mixed together.

Plus, the silicon itself can have tiny imperfections that make it less useful for other things.

Traditional ways of getting the good silicon out of old solar panels are complicated and not very eco-friendly.

They use a lot of energy and harmful chemicals. But the NTU team found a simpler, cleaner method using phosphoric acid, which is a substance often found in foods and drinks.

This new technique is not only more effective but also uses fewer chemicals, which makes it easier and cheaper.

Professor Nripan Mathews, who led the study, says their method is both “efficient and effective.”

Here’s how they did it: The scientists soaked the used solar panel in hot, diluted phosphoric acid for about 30 minutes.

This helped to remove metals like aluminum and silver. They repeated the process with fresh phosphoric acid to make sure all the metals were gone. At the end, they were left with high-purity silicon.

So, What’s So Cool About This Silicon?

Silicon is super important for making batteries, especially the kind used in electric cars.

These batteries can charge faster and last longer, which is why everyone from Tesla to Toyota is interested in them.

The scientists took the silicon they recovered and used it to make a battery. When they tested it, it worked almost as well as a brand-new battery made from fresh silicon!

By the year 2050, it’s estimated that there will be around 78 million tons of old solar panels that need to be thrown away. That’s a lot of waste! But this new method can turn that “trash” into something useful again.

It’s like a circle of life for solar panels: They start by helping us use cleaner energy from the sun, and when they’re too old for that, they can be transformed into batteries for electric cars, keeping the planet green.

So, the next time you see an old, worn-out solar panel, just think: it could be the heart of your future electric car’s super battery! And that’s what we call turning trash into treasure.

The study was published in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.

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Source: Nanyang Technological University.