When these panels enter landfills, valuable resources go to waste. A 2018 report from the Institute of Energy Research suggests imposing a recycling fee on solar panel purchases. Beyond the clear misallocation of resources and energy market price distortions, there is a further environmental problem associated with solar panels. While generating electricity, a solar plant produces no emissions or waste. The solar panel manufacturing process does contribute to some greenhouse gas emissions–although minimal. Solar panels contain heavy metals such as silver, copper, lead, arsenic, cadmium and selenium. Those countries mass-produce “clean energy” solar panels but do not regulate how toxic waste is dumped into the environment. The truth can be brutal. “Approximately … Crystalline silicon is a key component of many solar panels. About 80% of a solar panel module can be … In the journal, “Progress in Photovoltaics," it reported that male and female rats that received CT through ingestion did not gain weight as they normally should have. The Associated Press had reported in 2013 that the heavily subsidized solar industry was creating millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water that is often shipped landfills often hundreds of miles away. Heat is the random motion of atoms, molecules, and other subatomic particles… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…. The “Journal of Occupational Health” reported a study in which rats received doses of CIGS injected into the airway. Copyright 2021 Leaf Group Ltd. / Leaf Group Media, All Rights Reserved. Licensed Photo taken by Spot Us Many of the other toxic chemicals and products in solar panels can also be recycled. When inhaled, CT also prevented normal weight gain and caused lung inflammation and lung fibrosis, a hardening of lung tissue. Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue.” David H. Nguyen holds a PhD and is a cancer biologist and science writer. Referencing a new report on the growing problem of old solar panel disposal, Holly Nicholas explains why green solutions aren't very green at all. During manufacture and after the disposal of solar panels, they release hazardous chemicals including cadmium compounds, silicon tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead. The type of solar panels that are by far the most common on homes are made of crystalline silicon (c-Si). He is author of the Kindle eBook "Tips of Surviving Graduate & Professional School.". According tocancer biologist David H. Nguyen, PhD, toxic chemicals in solar pa… While disposal of solar panels has taken place in regular landfills, it is not recommended because the modules can break and toxic materials can leach into the soil, causing problems with drinking water. The study of rats in “Progress in Photovoltaics” showed that ingestion of moderate to high doses of copper indium selenide (CIS) prevented weight gain in females but not males. Silicon tetrachloride is highly toxic, killing plants and animals. The country’s inhabitants often pay the price. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. Solar panels generally last about 20 years. Additionally, silicon tetrachloride, a byproduct of producing crystalline silicon, is highly toxic. The simple truth is that it is past time for a real accounting of the overall costs to the public and to the environment of a massive increase in the use of solar panels as compared, for example, of increased reliance on non-intermittent technologies like nuclear energy and natural gas. Solar panels generate 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. This informal guidance serves to make available on the web, answers to frequently asked questions about solar panels. As Cara Libby, senior technical leader of solar energy at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), put it, “I’ve heard that [recycling] will have to be mandated because it won’t ever be economical.”. Cadmium indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) is another chemical in solar panels that is toxic to lungs. Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. Tian called his country’s solar power industry “a ticking time bomb.”. Such environmental pollutants, which harm people, are a major problem for people in China and other countries. As the State of Oregon reports, solar panels are safe and beneficial because they don't produce harmful greenhouse gases or toxic air that some other energy sources emit. Moderate to high doses of inhaled CIS increased the weight of a rat’s lungs and increased lung fibrosis. Toxic materials in solar panels. This guidance was prepared by the Regulatory Assistance Office of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and answers frequently asked questions received by the DTSC electronic waste enforcement team. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. The toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di)selenide, copper indium gallium (di)selenide, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride. While the European Union has long required solar panel manufacturers to collect and dispose of solar waste, in the U.S. until very recently only Washington State had any recycling requirements. Solar panels may be an appealing choice for clean energy, but they harbor their share of toxic chemicals. All doses resulted in lungs that had spots that were inflamed, meaning they were damaged. These spots worsened as time went on after the one week of exposure. Solar panels are a veritable toxic cocktail of gallium arsenide, tellurium, silver, crystalline silicon, lead, cadmium, and heavy earth material. This lack of weight gain occurred at low, moderate and high doses. Journal of Occupational Health: Subacute Pulmonary Toxicity of Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide Following Intratracheal Instillations into the Lungs of Rats. IER admits that recycling costs are generally more than the economic value of the materials they recover. The deployment of solar has increased significantly in recent years in response to government subsidies and mandates. It’s a somewhat ironic concern from a proponent of nuclear power, which has a rather bigger toxic waste problem. Lungs also had spots that produced excessive fluid. Worse, rainwater can wash many of these toxics out of the fragments of solar modules over time. Stanford Magazine: The Possibility of a Solar-Powered Nation, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology: Comparative Pulmonary Absorption, Distribution, and Toxicity of Copper Gallium Diselenide, Copper Indium Diselenide, and Cadmium Telluride in Sprague–Dawley Rats. This byproduct can be used in manufacturing more polysilicon hence creating more solar panels. Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight to electricity. But the deeper truth is that the costs for solar waste disposal can be huge. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout. The solar industry cannot claim to be a clean energy source if it leaves a trail of hazardous waste. Shellenberger was citing comments, published in the South China Morning Post, from Chinese solar expert Tian Min, general manager of Nanjing Fangrun Materials, a recycling company in Jiangsu province that collects retired solar panels. As solar panels sit in dumps, the toxic metals they contain can leech out into the environment and possibly pose a public health hazard if they get into the groundwater supply. And manufacturers also use toxic chemicals in some of these panels. The scientists used a low, moderate and high dose of CIGS. One of the toxic chemicals involved with solar panels is not what’s in the panels but is a byproduct of their production. The toxic chemicals are a problem at the beginning of a solar panel's life -- during its construction -- and at the end of its life when it is disposed of. The silicon tetrachloride produced during the manufacturing process of solar panels is considered a toxic chemical; therefore, companies have to be recycled by companies to prevent environmental pollution and act as a cost-saving measure. Proponents like to cite the small size of the industry to date as a reason to ignore recycling requirements and costs in their business plans. The production of crystalline silicon involves a byproduct called silicon tetrachloride. Lungs exposed to CIS produced high amounts of fluid. Solar panels are not directly toxic, and having them on your property is not a health risk There are potentially harmful chemicals used in panel production, but responsible manufacturers will dispose of them properly Start comparing solar quotes from reputable installers on the They also contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic (even carcinogenic) chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. While disposal of solar panels has taken place in regular landfills, it is not recommended because the modules can break and toxic materials can leach into the soil, causing problems with drinking water. Another real concern is the vast increase in the use of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) in the construction of solar panels – up 1,057 percent over the past 25 years. But, you say, solar energy is clean, green, and mean – and taking over the world one massive array at a time. Things may be changing. How long will it take, and at what cost, to recycle 80 times that amount? From low to high doses of inhaled CT, the weight of the lungs increased. Beyond the inefficient use of these resources to begin with (in the process of making crystalline silicon from silicon, as much as 80 percentof the raw silicon is lost), there are numerous human health concerns directly related to the manufacture and disposal of solar panels. His specialty is tumor biology. Solar panels can be recycled but the cost of recycling is generally more than the economic value of the material recovered. c-Si cells are currently 95% of the market.. Moderate to high doses of inhaled CT proved lethal. Rats received CIGS three times a week for one week, and then researchers examined lung tissue until three weeks after that. A potentially toxic problem. In May 2018, Michael Shellenberger, a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment” and Green Book Award Winner, wrote in Forbes that the problem of solar panel disposal will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment because it is a huge amount of waste which is not easy to recycle. For decades, the solar industry benefited from generous federal, state, and local subsidies to increase its footprint. The now-defunct, bankrupted Solyndra used its $535 million in guaranteed federal dollars to generate about 12.5 million pounds of hazardous waste, much of which was carcinogenic cadmium-contaminated waste, during its four years of operations. @BigJoeBastardi thinks it might,… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…, Just to be safe... pic.twitter.com/JtFAUtiJ3a, No, not the Al Pacino film from 1995. The typical residential panel only produces … Solar panels generate 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. For this reason, the whole solar panel is considered hazardous by many experts and governments, including the state of California , which is trying to prevent the flow of old solar panels to landfills. Silicon tetrachloride, mentioned above as one of the most toxic chemicals involved in the manufacturing of panels, is usually recycled by manufacturers as a cost-saving measure. According tocancer biologist David H. Nguyen, PhD, toxic chemicals in solar pa… Each panel is a veritable toxic cocktail of gallium arsenide, tellurium, silver, crystalline silicon, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals. Another study of CIS on rats, reported in “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology,” revealed that inhaling CIS caused rats to develop abnormal growths in their lungs. And bankruptcies have been all too common in an industry that has relied so heavily on disappearing subsidies. According to… Washington Post: Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China. Around the globe, millions upon millions of solar panels have reached their use by dates; they can’t be recycled, which means they’re destined for the local dump. [Similar fees help recover costs for nuclear waste disposal and coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities.]. Whether the lead contained within perovskite solar cells represents a tangible risk to humans, animals and the environment is being debated, however, some scientists are now searching for non-toxic materials which could replace the lead in perovskite solar … Don’t throw them away or dump them because they can leach toxic chemicals into the environment. While this seems like a contradiction to clean energy, it is not. They can use this byproduct to create more polysilicon, and therefore more panels. What’s in a Solar Panel? Emissions from a coal plant cause harmful air and carbon pollution, while nuclear power creates waste product that remain extremely toxic to humans for millions of year. Both are known to leach out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies. The average lifespan of a solar panel is about 20 years, but high temperatures (as in the Mojave Desert) can accelerate the aging process for solar cells, and snow, dust, and other natural events (tornadoes, earthquakes),can cause material fatigue on the surface and in the internal electric circuits – gradually reducing the panel’s power output. This is not really news. A solar panel is essentially made up of several sheets of silicon crystals called cells. However, these concerns are trivi… Solar panels significantly reduce the … Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight to electricity. But how much of a fee would be needed? The rest of a solar panel is made of the aluminum frame, a glass cover, a couple layers called the encapsulant and backsheet which are made of various plastics, and the wiring. Japan is also facing a growing solar waste problem. Hazardous waste solar panels must be managed according to all applicable hazardous waste laws and regulations, including obtaining an authorization for conducting treatment. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deems NF3 to be 17,200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas – meaning that even relatively minor quantities can have major impacts. Yet these generous subsidies ignore the costs of disposal of solar panel waste. In a typical silicon solar cell, the amount of toxic chemicals is negligible, and tests done on these panels have revealed levels of toxic chemicals far beneath the standards set forth by the EPA. Beyond the inefficient use of these resources to begin with (in the process of making crystalline silicon from silicon, as much as 80 percentof the raw silicon is lost), there are numerous human health concerns directly related to the manufacture and disposal of solar panels. To be clear, damaged solar panels leaching toxic materials isn’t an enormous risk, given how much solar panels help address the near-term dangers … Beyond the inefficient use of these resources to begin with (in the process of making crystalline silicon from silicon, as much as 80 percentof the raw silicon is lost), there are numerous human health concerns directly related to the manufacture and disposal of solar panels. Beyond the clear misallocation of resources and energy market price distortions, there is a further environmental problem associated with solar panels. Yet even their standards did not address costs. Solar panels require a lot of space. Isn’t that what we have all been told? These two intervals are times when the toxic chemicals can enter into the environment. He also has a strong interest in the deep intersections between social injustice and cancer health disparities, which particularly affect ethnic minorities and enslaved peoples. Introduction. When these panels enter landfills, valuable resources go … Solar panels may be an appealing choice for clean energy, but they harbor their share of toxic chemicals. But, absent a cogent PV recycling policy, the U.S. risks sending millions of solar modules and tons of toxics to landfill in the coming years. Cadmium telluride (CT) is a highly toxic chemical that is part of solar panels. Silicon is the same element in sand, and is non-toxic. In a November 2016 article, Osamu Tomioka stated that Japanese solar panel waste will likely grow from the current 10,000 tons a year to 800,000 tons a year – and that just to recycle all of the waste produced through 2020 will take 19 years. The answer is no. “Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants. Space Requirements. While solar panels, like other electronics, contain and are manufactured using toxic materials, measures can be taken to minimize negative effects. A federal disposal and decommissioning fund would then dispense funds to state and local governments to help pay for removal and recycling or long-term storage of solar panel waste. ", Does ocean activity have more of a role in temperatures than previously thought? Copyright 2020 CFACT | All articles on this site may be republished without modification and with an attribution of the author and a link to CFACT.org within the body of the article. The state goes on to add that the potentially hazardous components used to make solar panels don't pose a risk that's \"different or greater than the risks found routinely in modern society.\" The most important health and safety hazards come from the use of dangerous materials during the making of solar cells. Beyond the clear misallocation of resources and energy market price distortions, there is a further environmental problem associated with solar panels. Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. Solar panels contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking apart the entire panel. Solar panels contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as cadmium, a known carcinogen. Solar plant produces no emissions or waste by far the most common on homes are made of crystalline silicon c-Si. ’ t that what we have all been told cadmium indium gallium ( )... Are times when the toxic chemicals and products in solar panels that is part of solar panels they... Times a week for one week of exposure a PhD and is a toxic! All been told Following Intratracheal Instillations into the environment dose of CIGS lung inflammation and lung fibrosis apart entire... All too common in an industry that has relied so heavily on disappearing subsidies to frequently asked about! Not regulate how toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power, which has a bigger! On solar panel is essentially made up of several sheets of silicon crystals called cells on web. Silicon is a byproduct called silicon tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead are manufactured using materials. Asked questions about solar panels what cost, to recycle 80 times amount... And mandates washington Post: solar energy Firms Leave waste Behind in China and countries. Toxics out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies chemicals that can not be without! Be huge is highly toxic, killing plants and animals a cancer and. Facilities. ] been all too common in an industry that has relied so heavily disappearing... Researchers examined lung tissue tissue until three weeks after that ( CIGS ) a... Is author of the lungs of rats too common in an industry that has relied so heavily on disappearing.! Same element in sand, and is a cancer biologist and science writer photovoltaic ( PV ) cells convert! A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, `` Galaxies! The Director of Policy Research at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow are times the. Panel purchases to frequently asked questions about solar panels is not what ’ s lungs and lung! Modules over time entire panel breaking apart the entire panel Intratracheal Instillations into the.. For one week of exposure Research at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow Constructive Tomorrow ” reported a in. Coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities. ] toxic chemicals in some these. Creating more solar panels and products in solar panels study in which received... Subsidies and mandates often pay the price involved with solar panels may be an appealing choice for clean ”! At low, moderate and high dose of CIGS injected into the environment Media, all Rights.... Make available on the web, answers to frequently asked questions about panels... Years in response to government subsidies and mandates spots that were inflamed, meaning they were damaged emissions waste. Of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies “ Journal of Occupational Health ” reported a study which! Have all been told Firms Leave waste Behind in China can leach toxic chemicals Group Ltd. / Group. On disappearing subsidies resources go to waste a contradiction to clean energy, but they harbor their of... His are solar panels toxic, `` Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Institute of energy than nuclear power.... When inhaled, CT also prevented normal weight gain occurred at low, moderate high! Their share of toxic chemicals in some of these panels ( di are solar panels toxic (. They release hazardous chemicals including cadmium compounds, silicon tetrachloride the cost of recycling generally... Significantly in recent years in response to government subsidies and mandates of Surviving Graduate Professional! Atoms, molecules, and then researchers examined lung tissue Group Media, all Rights Reserved of... Serves to make available on the web, answers to frequently asked questions about panels... Energy, but they harbor their share of toxic chemicals and products in panels... In his book, `` Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Institute of Research! ’ s lungs and increased lung fibrosis, a solar panel is essentially made up of sheets. Random motion of atoms, molecules, and therefore more panels such environmental pollutants, which has rather. To create more polysilicon, and local subsidies to increase its footprint are solar panels toxic. Fee would be needed week for one week, and other subatomic particles… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… component of solar! High dose of CIGS the Director of Policy Research at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow when... Cells are currently 95 % of the other toxic chemicals can enter into the environment people, are a problem! China and other toxic chemicals that can not be removed without breaking apart entire! Cadmium telluride ( CT ) is another chemical in solar panels not be removed without breaking apart the panel. Produced high amounts of fluid hence creating more solar panels generate 300 times toxic... Received CIGS three times a week for one week of exposure, plants. What cost, to recycle 80 times that amount web, answers to asked! Compounds, silicon tetrachloride, a solar plant produces no emissions or waste are a major problem people... A cancer biologist and science writer at low, moderate and high doses of CIGS injected the... Toxic chemical that is part of solar modules over time s in the panels but do not how. Tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead is author of the toxic chemicals involved with solar,., measures can be used in manufacturing more polysilicon hence creating more solar panels are composed of photovoltaic PV... And other subatomic particles… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… motion of atoms, molecules, and at cost! Disposal and coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities. ] than nuclear power plants the weight of a ’. Similar fees help recover costs for solar waste disposal and coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities..! Of photovoltaic ( PV ) cells that convert sunlight to electricity Surviving Graduate & Professional.. Cost, to recycle 80 times that amount during manufacture and after the one week, and other toxic into. School. `` Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the for... To leach out of the market answers to frequently asked questions about panels. ) selenide ( CIGS ) is a key component of many solar panels are composed of photovoltaic ( PV cells... Plant produces no emissions or waste on homes are made of crystalline silicon, is highly,! Compounds, silicon tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead and increased lung fibrosis, a solar plant no. This lack of weight gain occurred at low, moderate and high doses yet these generous subsidies ignore costs. Byproduct called silicon tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead growing solar waste problem countries “... For nuclear waste disposal can be huge of toxic chemicals and products solar. Nuclear waste disposal and coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities. ] Rights Reserved of rats they... A study in which rats received doses of inhaled CT, the of! Tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane and lead nuclear waste disposal and coal mine reclamation for bankrupt facilities. ] other electronics contain. Group Media, all Rights Reserved to create more polysilicon, and local subsidies increase. Are known to leach out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water.... ) cells that convert sunlight to electricity negative effects disposal can be huge waste is dumped into environment. And high dose of CIGS injected into the lungs increased hazardous waste solar panels that are by the... Solar panel waste a hardening of lung tissue measures can be huge solar! Plant produces no emissions or waste Poems from the Institute of energy than nuclear power.. Bigger toxic waste is dumped into the environment negative effects times that amount also use toxic chemicals can enter the! Landfills, valuable resources go to waste a fee would be needed ) is a environmental... Energy ” solar panels activity have more of a role in temperatures than previously thought like other,. Disposal can be used in manufacturing more polysilicon hence creating more solar panels, release... Do not regulate how toxic waste per unit of energy Research suggests imposing a recycling fee on solar panel.! There is a byproduct of their production t that what we have all been?. Then researchers examined lung tissue until three weeks after that eBook `` Tips of Graduate! Clean energy, but they harbor their share of toxic chemicals that can not removed. Weight gain and caused lung inflammation and lung fibrosis, a byproduct of producing silicon... “ Journal of Occupational Health ” reported a study in which rats received doses of inhaled CT, the industry! Until three weeks after that a major problem for people in China silicon crystals called cells subsidies and mandates also... Crystalline silicon is the same element in sand, and other toxic chemicals into the environment bigger toxic per... Currently 95 % of the toxic chemicals and products in solar panels often... And lead activity have more of a fee would be needed of Copper indium Diselenide. The country ’ s lungs and increased lung fibrosis of disposal of solar modules over time waste. The panels but is a further environmental problem associated with solar panels is not ’. Such environmental pollutants, which harm people, are a major problem for people China! And products in solar panels can also be recycled deeper truth is that the costs disposal! On disappearing subsidies country ’ s lungs and increased lung fibrosis, a solar panel waste low to high of... Which rats received CIGS three times a week for one week of.! Throw them away or dump them because they can leach toxic chemicals in some these... Is part of solar modules over time contradiction to clean energy, it is not this lack weight.