Solar panel recycler expands with eye on glass
Dec 29, 2023
We Recycle Solar can now process 69 million pounds of solar panels each year, with ambitions to grow that number to 522 million. | Perthsnap/Shutterstock
Arizona-based solar panel recycler We Recycle Solar upgraded its equipment and increased its capacity.
The company previously told E-Scrap News it recycles the aluminum frames, copper wiring and glass from solar panels. It uses a process that includes secondary chemical processing and electrolysis.
Now, it has upgraded equipment to produce cleaner glass and added work aids such as vacuum arms and lifters to allow employees to work faster but more safely, said Dwight Clark, director of compliance and recycling technology at the Yuma, Ariz. facility.
"It's all around recovery of commodity timeframes and getting the glass reasonably clean for some reuse," Clark said.
Historically, about 70% of the weight of a polycrystalline panel was glass, but Clark said the market is shifting toward bifacial panels, which consist of a "sandwich" of two pieces of glass. That means glass is closer to 85% of the total weight of these modules and makes glass recovery an important part of the process.
A Solar Power World story noted that with the expansion, the 75,000-square-foot Yuma facility now has the highest processing capacity in the nation, at 69 million pounds annually. The company plans to boost that capacity to 522 million pounds per year by 2028, the story added.
Clark said the facility is designed to run in two different modes: with the frames on the panels or with them off. However, it can run a higher volume with the frames on, despite the need for an extra step at the end to separate out the aluminum. The aluminum frame is between 10% and 15% of the weight of the panels.
"To hit my production goal of 10,000 pounds an hour, I run them with frames on, but then there's an extra step of removing the aluminum later," he said.
Clark said he can run several hundred panels per hour.
Now, We Recycle Solar is looking to find more low-carbon reuse opportunities for the material to avoid trucking it long distances, Clark said, and is keeping an eye on states that have introduced laws mandating solar panel recycling, such as Minnesota, New York and Vermont.
"The more we can keep out of the landfill, we’re all for that," he said.