Lightweight honeycomb solar panels could be the future of sustainable renewable energy.
Two Netherlands-based manufacturers have teamed up to create a fully recyclable, lightweight solar panel.
A collaboration between solar panel specialist Solarge and material manufacturer Econcore, the PV tiles replace heavy glass with a robust but lightweight honeycomb structure.
As a result, the panels are up to 65 per cent lighter than conventional ones, making them easier to install.
This eliminates the need for an aluminium frame and makes them more impact resistant than traditional solar panels. It also means they can be installed on weight restricted buildings like barns.
The honeycomb structure makes them more efficient at controlling temperatures, too - whereas glass panels become less efficient in high heat settings.
While traditional glass solar panels are technically recyclable, it is often prohibitively expensive and time consuming. As the honeycomb tiles require fewer materials, the recycling process is more achievable.
Why is the weight of solar panels important?
Traditional solar panel systems are made up of the panel, mounting materials and ballast to prevent them from blowing away. Together, this weighs around 25 kg per metre squared.
Solarge already produces lightweight PV systems that use roof anchors instead of ballast, slashing this weight to 8 kg.
This means they can be used on commercial and industrial roofs, which are generally built as light as possible - meaning they can only support their own weight and carry the legally required rain and snow load. The regulations leave little room for heavy solar panels.
Lighter panels not only help to keep within the rules, they also use less materials and are easier to install.
One of Solarge’s new 2.66 metre-squared honeycomb panels weighs just 14.5 kg compared to over 28 kg for a traditional glass one.
Why is it so difficult to recycle solar panels?
Solar panels are notoriously difficult to recycle, meaning they often end up in landfill.
This is because they are made up of multiple layers with different components that need to be separated - an expensive and time-consuming process that is often deemed uneconomical.
The extraction process also typically relies on dangerous chemicals.
This is a major problem for an industry that, at its core, aims to protect the planet by decarbonising the energy sector.
The honeycomb core of the Solarge panels, on the other hand, is made from recycled and recyclable materials that are free from toxic PFAS chemicals.
One variation of the design features a panel made of just two materials, which would make splitting and sorting the components much easier.
The panels are set to be unveiled at JEC World 2023 - an international composites show - later this month.