According to a new estimate released this week, recyclers could be able to extract elements from used solar panels that are worth billions of dollars in the upcoming years. That ought to reduce supply-chain constraints for solar panels and improve the sustainability of the panels themselves.

At the moment, the majority of dead solar panels in the US are simply destroyed or thrown into landfills. Simply said, the economics don’t support recycling. A rescued panel’s worth hasn’t been high enough to justify the expense of transporting and recycling it. According to a new report by the research company Rystad Energy, that is expected to alter.

According to Rystad, the value of recyclable solar panel materials will increase dramatically over the coming years, rising to $2.7 billion in 2030 from just $170 million this year. That’s because there’s more demand for solar energy and there won’t be as many materials available to produce solar panels, which is good news. The ability to remove more valuable materials from old panels is becoming easier because to technological developments, which increases the financial benefits of recycling.

Currently, barely over 3% of the world’s electricity is produced from solar energy. However, a major transformation is currently underway to bring more renewable energy online in the world’s energy infrastructure. The Paris climate agreement binds nations to collaborate in order to stop emitting greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels over the course of the following several decades in order to prevent the detrimental consequences of climate change at a more manageable level. Solar power might offer up to 40% of the world’s energy in order to achieve that aim. In most of the world, solar power is now more cost-effective than coal or gas as a source of electricity, which is also helpful.

Even so, there are some clouds in the otherwise brilliant solar energy forecast. You need more supplies in order to construct more solar panels. The mining and processing of such resources currently takes place mostly in a few nations. As a result, the solar industry’s supply chain is now very susceptible to errors and fraud. Human rights violations that occurred when the raw materials for solar panels were being mined have been documented by the organization Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Additionally, the energy-intensive process that produces the polysilicon used in solar panels has been linked to forced labor. Sanctions have been placed on several Chinese-made solar products as a result of these revelations.

Recycling will help those supply networks become more diverse. Additionally, it might minimize the harm mining causes to the environment, the health of its workers, and the wellbeing of surrounding people.

More components utilized to create new solar panels in the future are probably going to be recycled solar panels. According to Rystad, the recyclable materials that may be sold for the most money are recovered silver, polysilicon, copper, and aluminum. Sadly, with today’s recycling techniques, silver and solar-grade silicon are typically not separated out. Along with the remainder of the panel, it is frequently shredded and sold as crushed glass. Fortunately, new studies on how to reclaim the most valuable materials inside photovoltaic panels suggest that recycling will soon become more complex.

We’re just now nearing the first significant wave of discarded solar panels because solar first gained traction in the 2000s and has a lifespan of about 25 years. That rubbish could become treasure if handled properly.