Qcells, a solar module manufacturer providing residential and commercial markets, announced it has entered a partnership with Solarcycle, a recycling company. Under the agreement, Qcells owned and installed solar panels will be recycled after decommissioning.
The agreement marks a landmark deal in solar recycling in the United States. Qcells operates one of the largest solar manufacturing operations in the United States, with plans to expand production to 8.4 GW annually by the end of 2024, adding 4,000 jobs. The company announced a $2.5 billion investment to support this expansion in January 2023.
Solarcycle said its patented recovery process retains 95% of the value of materials in the panel, as opposed to conventional methods, which extract about 50% of the material value. The company recycles aluminum, silver, copper, silicon, and low-iron glass and will send these materials back to the domestic manufacturing value chain, thereby supporting a circular economy.
With the rapid growth in solar energy in the U.S., there is also growing concern about what will happen to solar panels at the end of their useful life. Without an increase in solar recycling, the U.S. will contribute 10 million metric tons of trash in landfills and other waste facilities by 2050, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). To put into context, the U.S. dumps almost 140 million tons of waste each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We want our solar panels to not only help our customers cut costs and carbon, but also to be a part of building a more sustainable clean energy industry. Our partnership with Solarcycle will give our panels a life after powering homes, businesses and communities, reducing waste and reusing pieces for all types of technology including solar.”
Solarcycle runs recycling centers in Odessa, Texas and Mesa, Arizona, employing nearly 100 people since opening operations in 2022. The company said it expects to employ over 700 people in the next couple of years.
“Together, we can close the supply chain loop to ensure solar energy is manufactured and recycled in the U.S. using American labor and cutting-edge sustainability practices,” said Suvi Sharma, chief executive officer and co-founder, Solarcycle.
Earlier this month, Solarcycle announced it would move its headquarters to Mesa, AZ and open a research facility at the location. The Mesa facility will initially recycle 250,000 solar panels each year, and ramp to one million panels per year to keep pace with growing market demand in the solar industry for its recycling and circular supply chain services.
The solar recycler has grown its infrastructure footprint nationally through high-volume contracts with industry leaders including AES, EDF Renewables North America, EDP Renewables North America, Greenbacker, Ørsted, Silicon Ranch, and Sunrun.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory projects that by 2040, recycled panels and materials could help meet 25% to 30% of U.S. domestic solar manufacturing needs.