Renewable energy sources, like solar energy, have been gaining popularity worldwide. However, as with any technology, the materials used to create them can have environmental implications. The minerals used in solar panels and batteries are no exception. This article will examine the minerals used in the solar industry, their mining, and their refining.
MINERALS IN SOLAR PANELS
Most solar panels contain minerals like gallium, cadmium, copper, silicon, selenium, tellurium, indium, lead, nickel, zinc, aluminium, silver, tin, and molybdenum. These minerals are used to make different components of solar panels, such as frames, wiring, and photovoltaic cells.
MINERALS USAGE IN SOLAR PANELS
Silver, aluminum, copper, zinc, and silicon are commonly used in solar panels because they increase efficiency and electrical conductivity.
Silver is used to carry solar electricity from the panels to where it is needed, mainly pasted between silicon wafers.
Aluminum's heat conduction, durability, recyclability, and lightweight nature come in handy as it is used for framing solar panels. Copper enhances the performance and efficiency of solar panels due to its high durability and conductivity. Zinc helps improve solar panels' energy conversion, enhancing their efficiency.
Silicon captures sunlight and transforms it into free electrons, generating electricity through its light-absorbing and crystalline semiconductivity.
If misused or mishandled, these minerals can have devastating environmental implications. For example, the large quantity production of silver can cause the release of mercury in land, air, or water, which is dangerous to the environment and humans. High quantities of aluminum are toxic to freshwater organisms, and copper can attach to organic matter, releasing free minerals, harming land and water-based life. Zinc affects soils, vegetables, water resources, and crops, causing severe damage to humans. Silica particles can attach easily to the leaves of plants and interfere with respiration and photosynthesis.
MINERALS IN SOLAR BATTERIES
Solar batteries are designed to store solar energy for later use. While they contain fewer minerals than solar panels, they still have an impact on the environment. The three most commonly used solar batteries are saltwater, lead-acid, and lithium-ion.
Saltwater batteries replace lithium with sodium, creating a saltwater solution that can take in, store, and provide energy. While they have a long lifespan and are recyclable, they have a low energy storage capacity.
Lead-acid batteries have a lead metal plate dividing the positively charged lead dioxide metal plate (cathode) and the anode, with a mixture of water and sulfuric acid as an electrolyte. The plates are submerged in the electrolyte to store electricity.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular and commonly used batteries due to their higher energy density, longer lifespan, and more efficient operation. They also require less upkeep than lead-acid batteries, making them ideal for electric vehicles and homes.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Both lithium and lead can cause considerable pollution if not appropriately handled, with serious risks to animals and humans alike. Understanding the solar panel production process and the minerals used in solar batteries to mitigate their harmfulness and work towards a brighter, cleaner future is crucial.
The minerals used in solar panels and batteries significantly impact the environment, but that does not mean we should ignore their benefits. Understanding their mining, processing, and refining is essential to ensure that we use them sustainably. Working together can create a cleaner and brighter future for everyone.