198: Recycling Solar Panels – Yes, It Can Be Done


On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined we’re talking about Matt’s trip to Texas, his experience on tour at a solar panel recycling center, and his thoughts on the goals behind the company.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, What REALLY happens to used Solar Panels? https://youtu.be/FCtEWveySsA?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7LzoQm7EipJGOLkasC51Ii

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re going to be talking about Matt’s trip to Odessa, Texas, his experience on a tour at a solar panel recycling center, and his thoughts on the goals behind the company. Hey everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids and I’m just generally curious about tech.

And luckily for me, my brother is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. And after I tripped over my own tongue there, Matt, how are you doing?

I’m doing pretty well. How about yourself? I’m getting like that end of year, I don’t know. Just like the year’s almost over.

I’m looking forward to the holidays, taking some break, taking some breaks and just trying to relax a little bit. Um, so I feel like a kid that’s like at the end of the school year, like, like, let’s get this, let’s get this done. Let’s get that final exam done. Yeah.

You remember in Richard Donner’s Superman film, When the craft that Kal El was put into came screaming through the atmosphere and crashed into Kansas.

Yeah. That was me on Thursday entering the end of year mode. I,

I had planned on taking this coming week off from work. I had already gotten approval and then something came up that I needed to do on Friday, which meant I couldn’t work on Friday either. So I sort of impromptu turned to my manager and was like, I. I can’t work Friday either. Can I take a personal day?

And he was like, yeah, that’s fine. So I ended up doing that. And Thursday turned into one of those days at work where instead of it being like, happy holidays, have a good break. It’s what do you mean you’re leaving? We’ve got 25 things that we want you to do. And I ended the day. And by the end of the day, I couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the office.

And so I, I feel like I just crashed to earth and it hasn’t really sunk in that I’m not working tomorrow. So I think tomorrow is going to be a blissful morning where I wake up and. Look around and realize I can close my eyes and go back to sleep. So I’m looking forward to that and I won’t be working until January.

So I’ve got now two weeks. Yeah. Two weeks of decompression time, which I am really looking forward to before we get into our conversation about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about the solar recycling plant in Odessa. We like to take a look at some of your comments from previous episodes, so I wanted to share some comments that I found on our older episodes, like this one from episode 196, which is a lot of discussion about Matt’s home automation.

There was a nice little comment from Ryu Kagedesu, who wrote in to say In six months, when Sean’s second book hits, can we do a video where the roles are reversed and Matt asks talks about the book series? Yeah. Thank you, Ryu. That’s very kind of you to suggest that. I think we will only do that if it seems like it’s interesting to people.

I wouldn’t want to take over the channel for myself. If people are interested, please jump into the comments, let us know, and we’ll plan on doing something like that. It would be very, it would be a lot of fun, I think. There’s also this comment from Knosis Plays, who wrote in to say, My main issue with home automation is connectivity consistency of smart devices.

I’m at my wits end and question should I invest more into my network or just go analog again? So Matt, I wanted to share this with you. What are your suggestions regarding this particular problem? The connectivity consistency of smart devices.

Oh man, it’s a, it’s a bag of pain, unfortunately. Um, I’m, I’m experiencing that in my house.

Typically it’s Wi Fi devices that tend to like really bite in the butt. And when you get stuff that’s like matter certified using something called Thread or Zigbee, you tend not to have those, those problems. Um, or Lutron devices, which have their own proprietary network, you never have problems there. So you just really have to shop around and find the right technologies.

Uh, that can, that you have greater control over. But if you’re trying to do Wi Fi, it’s, it’s sharing bandwidth with your phones and your laptops and everything else in your house. And typically home Wi Fi routers are not very good at having lots of devices connected. So as soon as you get to like 20 devices, things will just start randomly dropping off your network.

So it’s like a very bad experience. So I would say stay away from Wi Fi. Stick to things like ZigBee or Thread, um, and try to rule your own. Use something like a home assistant box or, you know, homey pro or a smart things. Pick, pick whatever hub you want to use. Uh, but that’s typically what I would recommend because you’ll have more consistent connections and it’ll be very reliable.

Um, and they’re not going to compete with your home devices. So that’s what I would recommend.

Is there anything behind one brand for all things? Is there very often, is there more often consistency when it’s one brand for everything? Or is that impossible given the level of Specificity of, yeah, I want this lamp to turn on and I want to control my hot water heater and I want to control my refrigerator.

And so there’s no way you can do all of that

with one person. It’s impossible. There’s, there’s no company that makes everything. Um, there are companies like Acara that do a really good swath of things. But then there’s still limitations. So it’s like, you’re gonna have to have a mix and match of things.

So it’s really just making sure that you’re picking the most reliable brands that people, you hear people talking about the most. And so it’s like, for me, they’d be Lutron, Acara, stay away from those. No name brand things on Amazon that, Oh, here’s a smart outlet for five bucks. It’s like, you might want to think twice about that.

Stick to a brand that, you know, you typically get what you pay for. So maybe a different brand is 15 bucks as opposed to five, but it’s going to be more reliable. So it will be less of a pain in the butt over the long run.

And is there any benefit from having I know that like my Wi Fi network has a guest network available.

Is there any value to having your devices on a secondary network as opposed to your primary network?

Yes, but not for reliability. Um, because that won’t help you with that. Like I said, like if you have a typical Wi Fi router, commercial grade, I mean not commercial, but consumer grade router, no joke, you hit 25 devices, you’re going to start having problems.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s on a guest network or your main network. The reason why you’d want to use something like a guest network is security. So it’s like, here’s some devices that need wifi access and you’re not quite, it’s like every device you add that has wifi or is connected to your home network is adding another vector for security issues.

If that device is not being updated by the manufacturer, if the firm wears out a date and has a security hole. So for the things like that, putting it on a guest network isolates it from your important devices. And so it still has the internet access. Like your laptop

with your bank

account. Right. You’re firewalling that stuff on its own network.

It’s usually called a virtual LAN or like a VLAN. So I’ve got a VLAN in my house where all my smart home stuff is on its own network. So if things run amok on that network, I don’t worry about it because it’s like it’s not going to get to my home computer or things like that. So for security, yes, but not for reliability.

I also found some comments on Matt’s most recent videos like this one from his video on hydrogen’s use as an energy storage medium. George Powell wrote in to say, efficiency is good. But leaks and general safety is still a problem. And there’s a second efficiency problem, cold storage. It takes energy to keep hydrogen cold.

And even then some still boils off. This might be easier in naturally cold environments, but it’s difficult to handle either way. Doing this in a static location could work, but doing it in any sort of vehicle seems like unnecessarily difficult engineering challenge. I want the form of hydrogen. is stored in to be different.

I think ammonia works best. I think the challenge of storing ammonia are way easier to handle than storing pure H2. And One of the things you talked about in your video as there have been some recent develops developments in the use of hydrogen as an energy storage medium is what your video was about exclusive to one storage of hydrogen or could it be used in a, an ammonia based storage medium, like George mentioned.

Um, it, it, the storage device is not a specific kind that we were covering in that video. It could be liquid, you know, which means cooling it down. You could, uh, it could just be under high pressure, so it’s still a gas. You could, uh, do solid hydrogen storage, which is very controversial to some people, but it is used.

Um, the benefit of solid hydrogen is that you can still cram a lot of hydrogen into a space and you don’t have to expend all that energy keeping it cold or compressing it. Um, so there’s, there’s benefits and pros and cons to each method. Um, and some of the ones I’ve been most drawn to are like the solid hydrogen ones.

Like I think it’s GKN, I hope I got their acronym right. It’s a company that makes a solid hydrogen system, that uses solid, uh, a solid hydrogen medium to store it. And it, because of doing that, it’s much lower energy, uh, to get it in there and to get it out of there. And it’s, you don’t have to worry about the cooling it like that was brought up.

As far as ammonia. I have so many questions about that. I’m still, I’m still learning about that myself and really diving into that because there’s some concerns I have around, ammonia is toxic. So it’s like, imagine a car that is. Powered by ammonia, getting in a car accident, that happens today with a gas car, gasoline leaks everywhere, it’s flammable and dangerous, and the fumes are not good for you, but it’s not going to kill anybody.

If ammonia gets out in a car accident, uh, that could go bad very quickly. Typically, it’s liquid ammonia that’s being used in stuff like this. I know Toyota has a liquid ammonia, uh, vehicle. So it’s, I have so many questions. I just have so many questions. Yes, it is better for storage than straight up hydrogen, but it has its own bag of, oh my God, kind of questions that you’d have to answer as well.

So I don’t know. It feels like a mixed bag to me. Now

on to Matt’s most recent video. This is his December 12th, 2023 episode. What really happens to used solar panels, question mark?


you went down to Odessa, and you were scouting for some oil, and you found one right there on the property of a solar panel recycling plant.

First question to you is how soon are they going to close the solar panel recycling plant so they can start drilling that sweet, sweet black gold?

Yeah, I heard they just closed down and they’re focusing on that now. That’s great. What a relief. Yes, I’m kidding.


So I, I think,

uh, the two, the two researchers, the two heads of this company that you talked about, um, there was, uh, Suvi and the other gentleman’s name escapes me, Robert.

Yes. Suvi and Robert, both of them seem almost giddy with optimism. Really kind of refreshing to see, given the state of, well, the world, uh, and given the way that a lot of environmentalists talk about. These issues and the concerns that we have with these issues, you talk about it in your video, the tonnage of panels that exist, the questions about what to do with them and their optimism was very refreshing and I wondered how much of their optimism, how much did they share with you regarding the scope of efficiency and usability of their technique?

In the future, do they see this as they’re very close to as good as it can get? Do they see more growth and more potential for being able to reclaim even a higher percentage? And did they talk at all about what kinds of percentages of recyclability are they talking about? Do they still end up with scrap that is useless and therefore garbage?

Or like one of the things you pointed out, they’re reclaiming aluminum. And reclaiming aluminum is cheaper than mining and developing new aluminum. Yep. So at the end of the day, do they literally have just like a handful of useless junk? Or do they have something that they’re like, Oh, we’re even, we’re, we’re so close to getting every piece of this.

It’s that. The weight of, about their giddiness. I just want to say something about that. I’ve talked to a lot of people in different industries and you can always tell when a small company like this. Like, feels like they’ve cracked it and they’re like on it and like they’ve got this at hand because the owners and the inventors typically are just like geeking out and they just are like really into it and just you can feel the authenticity coming off of them and I got that sense coming off of both of these gentlemen when I was there.

Um, they both are just really kind of geeking out on what they’re able to do and where the potential is going for the efficiency they’re able to get. Like every piece of valuable material, they’re able to get it all out now. And yes, there’s going to be stuff left over that’s not used, but it’s stuff that nobody cares about.

And it’s minimal. Like plastic. The reason that, yeah, the reason that they’re so, so giddy, um, when they were showing me stuff, there was stuff I couldn’t show. Yeah. Um, there was a device that is brand new that they’ve built and they’re testing it now. And it was massive. It was this tall, like 15 feet tall thing.

Um, and. It is recycling the stuff in a way, like, I mean, back up, when they’re separating the panel, the glass from the, uh, the solar panel itself, if the glass is shattered and broken and gets all mixed up when they’re trying to separate it, it kind of contaminates. It contaminates what you get and because of that, it makes it less valuable.

So that happens a lot to panels, like they may arrive and they’re shattered and broken all that kind of stuff. So that kind of makes those panels more difficult. This new machine that they’re working on right now, basically makes that problem kind of Go away because it’s almost the kind of thing where it’s like, whether the glass is shattered or not, you can shove it in this thing and it will chew it up and separate everything out.

And everything’s great. It’s like, it’s kind of this magic machine they’re working on right now and they’re fine tuning it and figuring out what needs to be adjusted and worked on. So as they put it to me, the way that their system works today is very efficient, works well. They’re able to, on their facility right now, do that million panels a year.

Uh, that’s what they’ll be capable of. Because I think it was each line can do quarter million panels and they’re going to have four lines working in Odessa. And Odessa is their R& D facility. It’s not their full blown facility. So as they open up new facilities, I think it was in Arizona, they’re going to do more and more.

But this new device they’re working on, what they said to me was, Once we have that one dialed in, That’s how this system scales. It’s not our current system. Our current system basically works as fast as it can work. And there’s this minimal, it’s like dialing in the knobs. And this new method is just going to like scale it massively, like speed it up, make it far more efficient.

That’s where that cost when I talked to them, and it was like that 15 per panel for recycling costs kind of area. It’s like this new machine is what takes that cost and just drops it to the floor. Right. So they’re, you could tell when they were talking about it, like, I couldn’t film it, but when we were talking and they’re like, this machine, they were just like kids in a candy store.

It was just like, they were just like, they were all jazzed about what they had coming up because this is the machine that’s going to scale this business like you won’t believe. So yeah, there’s definite ways that they’re going to be ramping this up in a

big way. Are they planning on going? Through a expansion, or franchising, or finding The places where there are simply the most solar panels and going into those locations to offer localities the recycling option and working with municipalities to gather all this stuff and, and get all this refuse reusable, or are they creating a supply chain sort of in reverse where they are going to have centralized locations and various places all across the country would be shipping them stuff.

How is, how is, do you know anything about how they’re planning on basing themselves or locating themselves where they need to be?

It sounds like it’s more that one where they’re going to work with partners to get all the panels to come to their facilities and then they take care of it there Uh, but I would, I don’t know, reading between the lines of the conversation I had, it wouldn’t surprise me if down the road it evolves into that.

Because there is a lot of money to be made where you partner with a company, like a solar panel manufacturer. Yeah. And you actually do a little mini recycling area. in their facility. So as panels come off the line that don’t meet the quality assurance and need to be junked. They would want to recapture that.

Yeah. They recapture it right on premises and can kind of like do that closed loop. So that to me feels like if they’re going to do that, it feels like that would be like down the road. For right now, the initial stuff is getting partnerships and getting panels to come to their central facilities. And then that’s where they recycle it and take care of all the.

Selling it back out into the public. I would also

hope for them to have partnerships with the solar panel manufacturers for another reason, which is something we’ve talked about on the channel before I, I keep going back to the people who make these things need to be responsible for how to dispose of them.

And I think that if they have these partnerships with whatever manufacturers, so that companies being able to sell things to consumers, whether it’s corporate consumers or. Individuals and being able to say, when this thing dies, contact us and we will help you send it back to us and we will take care of it.

I think that is, that has a value to it that goes beyond money. It has a kind of a demonstration of ethics and a good demonstration of, of, uh, responsibility that I think is missing in a lot of corporate action right now. And I think there would be a lot of positive, um, view of companies that would do that to take that stuff back and and reuse it and say like this is a closed loop you’ve bought the panel from us and after 15 years the panel is no longer working the way you want it to we will take it back we’ll recycle it we’ll sell you a new one

well the i don’t want to sound like i’m on the Capitalism, free market, go.

Um, but the kind of what they’re doing right now by getting the cost to go down so low for recycling and the materials that they’ll be able to sell back out, it’s going to be eventually cheaper to just get recycled materials versus mining for new. And so just Because of that, it’s going to pull the commercial industry to wanting to do closed loop because it’ll be a way for them to save money in making their solar panels and making their batteries or whatever it is that’s being recycled.

So it’s just about getting that recycling cost so low that it’s just a no brainer for any company, whether there’s like legal requirements or social pressure, it doesn’t matter. It’s like money would make them gravitate that way anyway. And I, I don’t know if I brought it, I can’t remember if I brought it up in the video, but I talked to Suvi about how the EU has regulations around, it’s basically e waste.

So a company that makes a thing is responsible for that thing at the end of its life. And so there’s this requirement for solar panel manufacturers to recycle their solar panels and get a certain percentage back out of that material that’s recycled. Like, so here’s a panel, you have to recover 60 percent of the materials back out of that panel, at least.

And I asked him, like, do we think need something like that here in the U. S.? And his response was, he thinks that law is awful, um, because it’s stifled innovation for recycling in Europe. Because he said, technically, right now, the way it works, you pop the aluminum frame off a solar panel, and essentially You, you’ve hit your requirement.

And so he said, because of that, recyclers aren’t trying to innovate to get more out of it. They’re, they’re abiding by the law. And so they’re like, they’re doing exactly what they were told they had to do, but yet there’s no innovation happening and there’s no real recycling happening. And so he said, I don’t think we should be doing that because it’s awful.

And he really is advocating for kind of like that advanced recycling, which is what they’re trying to do. And the thing I thought that was interesting about Suvi is he worked, he was the CEO and founder of a solar panel company. So he worked on the manufacturing side for 20 years and now he’s on the recycling side.

So he knows the business from both sides. So it’s like he knows how to talk to the solar panel companies. He knows what they’re interested in, what they’re concerned by. So he’s trying to answer all the questions that he knows from his experience for what they would want. And it’s like, I think that’s one of the other things that gives them, I think, a leg up is that they have kind of a deep knowledge of the industry from those decades of experience.


interesting too, because it makes you wonder if he was standing there watching 20 years worth of solar panels go out of his company, he was just like, I wonder what’s going to happen with those. Where are they going? Where are they going to end

up? I sure did spend a lot of money on

silver. Hey, wait a minute.

You know where there’s silver? In them there panels. Exactly. So the, one of the things that we’ve talked about on the channel regarding solar panels is the secondary market. And So, the panel lifespan has It’s been growing, uh, and a secondary market has developed. What do you think that technology like this will do to a secondary market?

Will it cut the legs out from underneath it? Because people will be like, it’s just better to, to recycle it. Or do you think that it will continue to exist and it will be the panels that will end up in the recycling plants will be the 25 years old because there is a life beyond first purchase.

There is, this will not stifle that.

The Second Life market is going to be vibrant. And the reason I say that is, Suvi was very explicit about that when he talked to me. He said that they actually will take panels that have, like, they’ll get panels. And they’ll look at it and test it and it’s like, okay, this panel still has a life, they’ll find it a second home.

So like they will take panels that are still functional and they’ll pass them on to the second market. They just won’t recycle it. So it’s like he, he clearly believes in that. It’s like panels oftentimes from a solar farm are taken out of commission after five years of use or eight years of use, but that panel could go for 30 years.

So . That can go on to somebody else’s home. And a good friend of mine, Ricky, who runs the YouTube channel Tuba Da Vinci, um, he’s done this exact thing. He’s bought secondhand panels and put them on his home and you can save massive amounts of money going that route. And you still have great panels that still have very high efficiency.

So it’s definitely a market that’s not going to get squashed by this at all.

And what about people who have been hoarding? Dead panels. Do we have places that are just like stacks of dead panels that have been waiting for this kind of tech to come along? Does this mean that there will be trucks heading into waste dumps around the country looking for those?

panels that have been stacked up neatly in the corner, waiting for the day when they might be turned into a recyclable material.

I don’t, I don’t know of any place that’s hoarding them like that. There might be, I’d have to look into it. I’m not sure, but I do know places that have been junking them and just like putting them into.

The garbage heaps, that’s not going to work because those panels are just like buried and just mangled. And so it’s like, we need that. Remember that second machine I talked about with their building that might work where it doesn’t matter what you put in, you can get something out. Maybe as the tech gets more and more advanced, we’d be able to basically go dumpster diving into those old heaps and start pulling old stuff out.

But as for right now, that’s not possible. Too bad.

Although perhaps. Who’s to say, maybe there’s something in the tech that they’re developing for solar panels? Why does it have to be limited to just solar panels? Maybe there’s a day when we just take any trash and dump it into a thing and it spits out the reusable materials separated and ready to go.

Fingers crossed. So listeners, viewers, what did you think about all this? Are you excited about the potential of this? Do you think it’s got a future and do you think that Like Matt described it, should we be setting it up so that it’s a place where all the panels are taken? Or do you think that this is something that should be spread around and shared?

Let us know in the comments. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us. You can go back wherever it was you found us, leave a review. Don’t forget to subscribe and please do share it with your friends. All of those are great ways to support us. And if you want to support us directly, you can click the join button on YouTube.

Or go to stilltbd. fm, click the become a supporter button. It allows you to throw some coins at our heads. We appreciate the welts. The podcast gets made and then everybody goes to bed happy. And just a word of warning to everybody about what’s coming up on the channel. This is likely our last recording of the year.

So we are going to be entering a bit of a break, but we’ll be back in 2024. Holy cow, 2024. And we’ll be, uh, ready with some of Matt’s new episodes. Matt, do you want to give us a quick, very like quick one word per video?

What are some.

What are three topics coming up in early 2024?

Uh, a crazy, crazy ass wind turbine.

Really crazy. Uh, wind turbines for your home. Oh yeah. There’s so many. There’s, I don’t know what’s going to come after that. There’s like four or five that we’re looking at possibly doing, but I don’t want to get into those quite yet, but there’s a couple of wind turbine ones that I think people might find interesting.

All right. So it’s going to be a windy 2024. It’s a windy 2024. We’ll have to look forward to that. everybody for listening or watching and wherever you are in the world, uh, we hope you have a safe entry into the new year. We hope you have a pleasant holiday season and let’s hope that 2024 turns into a great year for everybody.

We’ll talk to you next time. Bye


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