Researchers Find a Way to Extract Silicon from Discarded Solar Panels and Use it in Batteries

The researchers point out that by the year 2050, there will be around 1.5 million tons of solar panels lying in the waste

November 18, 2019


Researchers at the Deakin University have come up with an innovative way to extract silicon for discarded solar panels and turn it into nano silicon for batteries.

This latest innovation is going to solve one of the biggest problems that is preventing photovoltaic cells from being recycled.

Material scientists Md Mokhlesur Rahman and Ying (Ian) Chen from Deakin’s Institute of Frontier Materials have come up with a novel way to recover silicon from waste solar panels and then convert it into nano silicon to be used in lithium-ion batteries.

According to scientists, this is an innovative way of using discarded solar panels and prevent the high-value waste going to the landfill.

Speaking about this latest finding, Rahman said, “Although silicon semiconductors make up a relatively small part of solar panel cells, the material’s value is extremely high. Scientists have been looking for ways to repurpose the silicon for some time, and we believe this to be the missing piece of the puzzle.”

The researchers point out that there will be around 1.5 million tons of solar panels lying in the waste by 2050 without the silicon recycling process in place, and in this light, the discovery becomes all the more important.

“Silicon cells are the most important component of a solar panel, transferring the sun’s energy into electrons. They’re also a high-value material being a chemical element and far too precious to end up as waste, which is why this finding is significant,” Chan explained.

According to the researchers, the repurposed silicon can be used for making high-energy anodes and used in lithium-ion batteries as the demand for advanced lithium-ion batteries increases globally.

“It’s the holy-grail of repurposing-to take a product that would otherwise be waste, recycle it, and in the process make it even more valuable at the other end,” Rahman added.

Increasing the efficiency of solar cells has been the main area of research for quite some time, and researchers across the world are doing their best to come up with innovative ways to do so.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Tata Chemicals had started commercial operations to recover active cathode materials from spent lithium-ion cells or batteries. Li-ion battery recycling is a process where metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese are recovered. The recovery maintains 99% purity in the levels of yield. The minerals recovered in the recycling process are delivered to battery manufacturers to be reused in the production of new batteries.