There are many people who believe we are heading towards a green energy landscape that will be populated by smooth-running and silent electric cars, rows of wind turbines that are rotating and fields filled with sparkling solar panels.
Though this utopian vision is becoming within reach, if we allow materials that enable these types of technologies not to be reclaimed, then the vision of having a clean energy future will be only that; the reality will be a sight of corroding batteries, graveyards of old turbine blades and solar panels becoming decrepit.
Although there are numerous initiatives that are currently preparing for this type of new waste to arrive, most cases view these solutions at best as works in progress. Therefore, society must realize the importance of recycling valuable materials for renewables to make sure the vision of a clean energy future can become a reality and not a fruitless dream.
Amount of Waste in Batteries, Solar Panels is Enormous
Earlier this week, writers Melody M. Bomgardner and Alex Scott reported on renewables and keeping valuable materials out of the garbage cans. The United States alone has issues when it comes to not only disposing trash properly but with wasting of things, such as wasting electricity, food, water, etc.
When taking a close look at renewables, the potential amounts that could be wasted are staggering. According to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance, they estimated that waste batteries that would be taken out of electric vehicles would total ninety-five-gigawatt hours’ worth by the year 2025.
Another area of concern is with solar panels, where it has been projected that a similar number of old solar panels will collected by then. These projections were made by the International Renewable Energy Agency. IRENA is anticipating that waste with solar panels could reach by 2050 a total of seventy-eight million metric tons!
One other area of concern has to do with renewables with wind, meaning keeping track of wing turbines. According to the trade association WindEurope, the next two decades could see Europe watching three-hundred-thousand metric tons each year of wind turbine blades that become decommissioned.
Growing Demand for Renewable Energy Will be Costly
The rise in demand for energy that is renewable may be pleasing to many; however, manufacturers may not be so ecstatic. This has to do with how manufacturers have already been dealing with supply constraints and spiking costs for raw materials such as lithium and cobalt.
Another thing to understand is the effort and human ingenuity that goes into constructing highly structured battery cathodes, turbine blade composites and high-purity photovoltaic silicon. These engineered materials that were cleverly designed deserve a way to reuse them instead of one-way ticket to the trash bin; unfortunately, it remains unpractical to recover materials that originated from discarded devices.
Reasons for this include the fact that they are constructed not to come apart, even under environmental conditions or through using extreme force, which allows it to perform their function for long duration’s. Also, they are manufactured by mixing materials that are more and less valuable; trying to acquire the more valuable materials back out would be as successful as taking an egg and then unscrambling it.
Presently, waste handlers, scientists and manufactures are attempting to find ways to reclaim efficiently materials that can be used for renewable energy. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough of these devices that have made it to the end of their existence to make it worthwhile to invest in recycling facilities.
Right now, it is unknown if there can be created in time a profitable industry that will be able to prevent clean energy from adding to our planet’s pile of waste that continues to grow. That is why it is important to find ways that can successfully recycle valuable materials for renewable energy if we want our society to survive.