Singapore Scientists Upcycle Old Solar Panels, Turning Them Into Thermoelectric Materials

Singaporean scientists have discovered a way to upcycle old solar panels by turning the silicon in them into thermoelectric materials.

Credit: A*STAR via The Straits Times

According to The Straits Times, the material works almost the same way as the turbines found on hydropower plants, which are driven by water movement to produce electricity. But here, instead of water, it’s the movement of heat.


The team, which comprises scientists from Agency for Science, Technology and Research and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said their discovery can be used for applications such as cooling, for example.


They noted that solar panels are made up of many solar cells, which contain a complex mix of materials like aluminium, copper, lead and, of course, silicon. Silicon is particularly abundant in the composition, making up about 90% of solar cells. The material, however, is rarely recycled or used again since the process involved is both costly and energy-intensive.

Credit: A*STAR via The Straits Times

This is why the scientists wanted to find a way to upcycle silicon, which they described as the “most valuable part” of solar panels.


They’re currently developing the technology for large-scale upcycling of waste silicon to turn them into silicon-based thermoelectrics, the goal of which is to suit applications like converting heat from industrial waste processes into electricity.


The Straits Times notes that this is just one of a number of research projects in Singapore studying how solar panels can be recycled.


Additionally, it’s one of two projects receiving funding support from the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Closing the Waste Loop initiative. The S$45 million research and development effort was launched in 2017 with the goal of recovering potentially recyclable materials from waste streams. The other project receiving funding is led by Singapore Polytechnic (SP), a recycling programme that aims to recover the reusable materials of solar panels at a commercial scale.

 
  • Singaporean scientists from A*STAR and NTU have discovered a way to upcycle old solar panels by turning the silicon in them into thermoelectric materials.

  • The material works almost the same way as the turbines found on hydropower plants, but instead of the movement of water, it's heat.

  • Silicon, the scientists point out, is rarely recycled as the process involved is costly and energy-intensive. This is why they set out on this research project.

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