Georgia’s Qcells announces solar panel recycling partnership

Qcells will work with SOLARCYCLE, which says it can reclaim more than 95% of a solar module’s components
A view of construction for Qcell’s new solar manufacturing plant in Cartersville on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

A view of construction for Qcell’s new solar manufacturing plant in Cartersville on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

North Georgia solar manufacturing giant Qcells announced a new partnership Monday to recycle the panels it produces and return most of the used materials to the supply chain.

Qcells said it will work with SOLARCYLE — a solar recycling firm with facilities in Odessa, Texas, and Mesa, Arizona, — to keep damaged or decommissioned panels out of landfills.

With a patented extraction technology they say allows them to reclaim more than 95% of a solar module’s value, SOLARCYLE will recycle aluminum, silver, copper, silicon and low-iron glass from Qcells’ panels. Recycling reduces the need for mining and will help ensure a stable, domestic supply of raw materials, the companies say.

SOLARCYLE already has partnerships in place with more than 40 U.S. solar firms, but the companies said their collaboration is the first between a recycler and a large solar manufacturer.

Qcells’ existing factory in Dalton, which can assemble 5.1 gigawatts of panels a year, is the largest silicon-based manufacturing plant in the U.S. As part of a $2.5 billion investment in expanding its Georgia footprint announced in January 2023, the company is building another, larger facility 35 miles south in Cartersville.

Qcells solar manufacturing facility in Dalton, Georgia, on Jan. 10, 2023.  (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

The Cartersville factory will be able to crank out 3.3 gigawatts of panels annually and will feature the country’s first fully integrated supply chain, producing solar ingots, wafers, cells and completed modules under one roof. The plant could begin producing modules in April, and the rest of the plant is expected online by the end of this year. Between Dalton and Cartersville, Qcells says it will be able to produce enough panels each year to power 1.3 million homes.

Qcells’ director of sustainability Kelly Weger said in a statement that the agreement with SOLARCYLE shows the company’s commitment to environmentally friendly solar manufacturing.

“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,” Weger said.

As the U.S. and the world attempt to limit climate change, solar is the fastest-growing source of new, clean energy.

Most solar panels can produce electricity for 30 to 35 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While many installations around the country are relatively new, a wave of retirements is expected in the coming decades. Without recycling, decommissioned solar installations could produce 170,000 to 1 million tons of waste in the U.S. by 2030, according to one estimate.

Qcells’ and SOLARCYCLE’s partnership and others like it are key to keeping those panels out of landfills and shoring up domestic supplies for raw solar materials.

“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,” Suvi Sharma, SOLARCYCLE’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement.

As the companies make plans to reuse solar materials, Georgia legislators at the General Assembly are wrestling with how to ensure solar equipment from installations isn’t abandoned. With an estimated 5,485 megawatts of capacity, Georgia has the 7th-most installed solar in the country, with the vast majority in large, utility-scale installations.

A bill introduced by Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), HB 300, would require that solar lease agreements include specific terms for removing solar equipment, and require that installers provide financial evidence showing they can cover the cost of decommissioning the installation.

The bill has been assigned to the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications committee.


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