Geology & GeoMetallurgy

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Environmental Impacts For Cadmium-Telluride (1 reply)

2 months ago
TheUnderdog 2 months ago

Good afternoon. Forgive me as I couldn't find a suitable area to ask several questions regarding Cadmium-Telluride solar panels, with a focus on CdTe specifically.

I am a Citizen Journalist, and I have tried to ask both First Solar (the only major CdTe recycler in the US) and the EPA what components of a CdTe solar panel cannot currently be recycled using current metallurgical recovery modes (911metallurgist's article here is the most detailed so far).

First Solar stonewalled the request, and the EPA gave me a wall of irrelevant bureaucratic text on hazardous waste classification that dodged answering the question, which leads me to believe such panels cannot be fully recycled and there is an attempt to keep such issues under wraps.

I'm aware according to the EU's REACH that Cadmium-Telluride is very toxic to aquatic life, and can be absorbed through the skin. I was hoping members here could help clarify a few questions:

  1. Under what naturally occurring conditions could Cadmium-Telluride degrade into separate components of Cadmium and Tellurium? (EG if a solar panel gets broken, is it possible for CdTe to turn into Cadmium via naturally occuring elements)
  2. Are there any components of CdTe solar panels that cannot be fully recycled? This includes 'non-hazardous' parts that might be EG plastic.
  3. Is CdTe water-soluable, and could CdTe hypothetically leach from say, hurricane damaged solar panels under heavy rain conditions, into the groundwater, and pose risks to aquatic life and/or to drinking water?
  4. What is the appropriate disposal process for CdTe?

Be aware I have found errors in available online datasheets. For example, PubChem claims it is a 'Substance of Very High Concern' (SVHC), however when contacted, the EU's ECHA reported it was not, and inversely, Carl Roth chemicals reported it wasn't registered under the EU's REACH, but ECHA reported it in-fact, was.

Any additional insights on the impact of Cadmium-Telluride would be greatly appreciated.

3 weeks ago
David 3 weeks ago

A water expert friend told me:

Cadmium can potentially leach off solar panels, but under very specific conditions, such as acid rain; the percentage of cadmium coming off solar panels is low, and wouldn’t affect an aquifer or aquatic life.
There is a higher percentage of lead coming off solar panels than cadmium.
In a 2 year research conducted by the University of Washington, they found that lead-free solar panels still leached lead but well below EPA regulations.

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