Canadian Manufacturing

Can we make recycling renewable technologies easier and less expensive?

by Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief, Revolutionized   

Environment Manufacturing Operations Research & Development Sustainability Technology / IIoT Cleantech cleantech emissions environment In Focus Manufacturing recycling Research Technology

The renewable energy industry could be one of the most wasteful sectors in recent history unless it finds a holistic, practical solution.

PHOTO: Recycling or Waste/Kurt Bauschardt via Flickr

Renewable energy recycling needs edits. It is expensive and cannot reasonably accommodate up-and-coming or legacy renewable technologies. The solar panel recycling problem — alongside lithium-ion battery disposal from electric vehicles — explains the challenges the industry can overcome. How can this process begin for an emboldened reputation in the renewable energy sector?

Realizing how renewable adoption harms scalability

What are some of the reasons renewable energy recycling is so expensive and inaccessible? Rapid, intense investments in the sector are necessary for reaching climate goals worldwide. However, it has not been able to balance investing in R&D and manufacturing with bringing recycling infrastructure to life. The strategies to bring renewable products to market required a sacrifice in easy-to-access and cheap recycling tech.

The renewable energy industry could be one of the most wasteful sectors in recent history unless it finds a holistic, practical solution. If solar, hydropower and wind develop a reputation for heading to landfill at the end of their lifecycle, the world’s vision for a circular economy and political agreement about the benefits of renewable energy could dissolve — all because of poor timing and displaced budgets.

By 2050, there will be over 78 million tons of solar-related waste in landfills because of market demands. The only way for companies to avoid degrading clean energy is to reclaim and reintroduce renewable energy waste with greater cost effectiveness and productivity.


Making renewable energy recycling cheap and practical

The sector has options for minimizing costs for everything from thermoset resin wind turbine recycling to redesigning batteries to aqueous alternatives. Most renewable energy production and assembly for the world’s nations are in China, and offshoring means there is even less infrastructure onshore to accommodate the waste and recycling from its citizens. Reshoring could assist with reducing prices in the long term, despite an upfront cost.

Another way to make it easier and less expensive in the long run is to implement tracking and monitoring standards, which means expanded service offerings from recycling infrastructure.

Data mining is critical for revealing process improvements and cradle-to-grave record keeping can explain where everything is. For example, salvaging transformer parts for recycling requires different protocols than wind turbine blades. Companies that use transformers in their products can use data to determine how they can contribute more productively to necessary processes like switchgear reconditioning and oil testing for more holistic and healthy recycling. Data can show what materials are the most expensive and the least sustainable.

Recycling does more than keep materials circulating

Building inexpensive recycling plants is one hurdle. Another consideration is how renewable energy needs an intense amount of raw materials, which means the world will mine and ship more metals like nickel and lithium. Material stores will run dry. Therefore, easy recycling must be the backbone of renewable energy resilience as companies streamline designs and phase out unnecessary metals.

Engineering, procurement, and construction costs and energy expenditures will skyrocket, despite a priority toward clean energy. Recycling helps minimize renewable energy’s environmental stress until it is perfect. This is essential as regulatory bodies standardize wind turbine recycling, lithium-ion battery acquisition, bans on renewable energy tech in landfills and solar panel advancement.

For example, the solar panel recycling problem falls under the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment rule, where 85% of related waste must be recycled — and it is paid and agreed for by EU members. The United States does not even have consistent recycling rules or compliance frameworks across states. Businesses must persist despite governments failing to compromise to pass proactive laws.

Easier, more practical renewable energy recycling

The global push for clean power means companies must collaborate with governments to create cheaper, circular systems for renewable energy waste. Practical and inexpensive solutions exist, but they require collaboration between manufacturers and governments. These entities must develop new variants of renewable tech that are easier to recycle with easy-to-construct recycling plants.


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