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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Nov 9, 2021

November 15 is 'America Recycles Day' which got us at Energy Central thinking-- what can and should power providers be doing to step up their recycling contributions? What is your organization doing with equipment that ris ready to be retired? Do you have programs to help your customers recycle things like light bulbs or batteries? What are some outside the box ways in which utilities can contribute towards meeting  their overall recycling goals?

I'm curious to hear from you-- chime in below!

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Great topic. I have always thought manufacturers should accept their products back in a full cycle. They are probably more qualified and prepared to ingest and process used washing machines, couches or furniture, and other items. We currently send cars to a junk yard, and many cars are cannibalized for the used car market. But it really does bring up the billion pound elephant in the room - consumers are driving the desire for everything new. That must be addressed on a whole by society and there is no easy answer.

Hi Matt:

See earlier post described and linked below.

Destructive Restoration Part 4 – Renewables: We imagine a world with renewable energy, electric vehicles and sustainable materials that power the future.
Climate change is a global problem that demands innovative solutions now.
Our industrial revolution led to pollution. And mountains of waste.
We believe that the future can be bright.

And we know that inventing circular supply chains, turning waste into profit and solving the environmental impacts of new products before they happen … will save our planet.

- Redwood Materials Home Page

This paper is about the processes used to recycle the market-leading renewable energy products, including PV panels, wind turbines blades and batteries.


As Charles Durant mentioned, battery recycling is important for utilities investing in large battery farms. However, utilities are also investing into the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV charging infrastructure. While recycling should be considered for EV battery packs that have reached the end of their useful life, battery second-use, or second-life should be considered first. Many used EV batteries can be reconditioned and repurposed for commercial and utility-scale energy storage at a lower cost than brand new batteries. This increases the value chain of EVs as a whole and is also the subject of the DOE battery recycling prize that Mr. Durant referenced. 

In case you are an energy utility, or any utility that generates some form of waste heat flow, start by recycling your waste heat. Increase efficiency of all energy use. Often there's still some energy left at the end of the stack or at the end of a process. Heat pumps, for instance, could help with utilizing such waste heat and increase that heat to higher temperatures that can be used in heating of homes and other buildings, with energy that would otherwise go lost.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Nov 11, 2021

Sebastiaan - do you have examples of utilities that are doing this and how much this is saving them but increasing their efficiency? 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Nov 11, 2021

Charles,  I hear a lot about the chemicals that are needed to strip batteries and their reusable components.  Do you know if there is work being done to figure out cleaner ways for recycling? 

Being with DOE and a national laboratory, I come at this from a different perspective, which is utilities can work with the Department of Energy and the National Laboratories as well as academia to come up with new and inventive ways to recycle technologies and hardware associated with renewable energy.  Some things that immediately come to mind are work that is being done on recycling batteries and wind turbine blades.


Sebastiaan Ruijgrok's picture
Sebastiaan Ruijgrok on Nov 10, 2021

From wind blade to bike shed

Sebastiaan Ruijgrok's picture
Sebastiaan Ruijgrok on Nov 10, 2021

We 've all seen the wind blades end up in land fills which should be avoided. Here is a nice example of repurposing a blade and making it a bike shed. As I bike to the office, I know it's nice to have a dry saddle at the end of the day.

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Nov 11, 2021

I love this one.  I am an avid biker too and love the idea.  I wonder if the blades could also be used in parks for shade around tables etc!  Also curious is it cost-prohibitive for companies to covert these vs just dumping in landfills? Perhaps there could be incentives to companies who own and run wind farms to re-use vs dumping in landfills - or maybe there already is?  

As the US progresses towards 100% renewable electricity and then 100% renewable energy, recycling of solar modules becomes important.

To reach 100% renewable energy (electrified transport, heating and industry, 75% decline in US emissions), about 60m2 of solar modules per person is required (along with some wind and hydro). Given the 30 year life of a module, this equates to disposal of 2m2 of solar module per person per year.

The aluminum frame will be 100% recycled because of its value. The glass will add about half to the existing glass waste stream (hopefully fully recycled). The small amount of plastic encpsulatant is burnt in an incinerator with a top quality scrubber to provide the heat for module disassembly. The silicon mass is tiny and hamless (Si is #2 element in the Earth's crust). The small mass of conductive metals is retrieved and recycled.