Georgia Plant To Produce Solar Panel Glass from Recycled Parts

March 14, 2024 by Jake Hertz

A solar panel recycling company plans to construct a $344 million factory in Georgia to manufacture solar panel glass.

Solar panels are pivotal in the global transition toward renewable energy and sustainability. Yet, the scarcity of raw materials presents a formidable obstacle to meeting the demand surge. Fluctuating prices and supply shortages can disrupt the supply chain, causing production delays and increased costs.

Solarcycle plans to construct a $344 million factory in northwest Georgia, marking the expansion of the company's inaugural venture into producing glass for panels. This article explores the intricacies surrounding solar panel production and examines the importance of Solarcycle’s factory.  


Solar panel manufacturing

Solar panel manufacturing. Image used courtesy of Solarcycle


Solar Panel Manufacturing Challenges

Solar panels represent a transformative technology in harnessing solar energy and converting it into electricity for various applications. 

A photovoltaic (PV) module comprises solar cells, a glass covering and frame, ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) for cell lamination, and a back sheet. To develop these components, the primary raw materials involved in solar panel manufacturing typically include silicon (for solar cells), aluminum (for frames), glass (for encapsulation), and various rare earth minerals (for semiconductor components and coatings). Glass serves as the top layer of the solar panel, effectively encapsulating the solar cells and providing protection against weather and environmental factors necessitating its durability, transparency, and resistance to UV radiation.


Parts of solar panel.

Parts of solar panel. Image used courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency

Unfortunately, many challenges in raw material mining for solar panels lie in the ethical and sustainable sourcing of key materials like silicon, silver, aluminum, and copper. Issues such as forced labor, environmental contamination, and land encroachment plague the supply chain, particularly in regions like Xinjiang, China, and indigenous lands in various countries. 

Geopolitical dynamics and trade regulations are among other factors that could influence the accessibility and abundance of these resources. The demand for raw materials is expected to surge as solar power grows, necessitating concerted efforts from governments and industries to ensure responsible mining practices and mitigate the political, environmental, and social impacts of raw material extraction. 


Recycling Solar Panels Could Make a Big Impact

Arizona-based Solarcycle recently announced plans for a $344 million Georgia factory to produce solar panel glass. The facility, set to open in 2026, will employ over 600 workers.

Recycling involves dismantling panels to recover valuable materials like silicon, silver, copper, and aluminum, which can be reused in new panel production. Moreover, recycling lowers energy consumption and minimizes waste generation. Utilizing an automated recycling process, Solarcycle can extract materials worth 95% of a solar panel's value, including silver, silicon, copper, and aluminum. With plans to recycle 1 million solar panels in Cedartown, Georgia, Solarcycle aims to produce enough glass annually to generate 5 gigawatts of electricity. The company chose Cedartown for its proximity to American solar panel manufacturers. By combining recycled glass with raw materials, Solarcycle aims for sustainable production while meeting the growing demand for solar panels.


Recycling process of PV raw materials.

Recycling process of PV raw materials. Image used courtesy of Wlodarczyk et al.


Additionally, partnerships with 40 major solar energy companies, such as Qcells, facilitate the recycling of decommissioned panels, further supporting the circular economy. Solarcycle's expansion is funded through private investment, with additional support of $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for research and development. 


Analyzing Solar Recycling Impacts

As Solarcycle leads the charge towards a more sustainable future, it helps to address the challenges of raw material scarcity and strengthens the domestic solar panel manufacturing ecosystem. Collaboration with industry giants and government support underscores a collective commitment to achieving renewable energy goals.