Researchers have now found a novel way to extract high-purity silver from discarded solar panels, reducing burden on mining as the amount of ores depletes every year.
Developed by researchers from the University of Leicester, they do it from end-of-life solar panels using cheap, environmentally friendly solvents.
Dr Guillaume Zante, from the Centre for Materials Research at the University of Leicester explains, “Unlike ‘regular’ salted water made of sodium chloride, we used choline chloride (chicken feed) and calcium chloride (a de-icing agent), but there are many different salts that can be investigated in further studies.”
The novel process makes use of iron chloride and aluminium chloride dissolved in brines to extract the silver and aluminium from solar cells. It is capable of extracting over 90 percent of silver and aluminium in just a matter of minutes.
What’s more is that the silver extracted is of the highest purity, which means it can be used for other industrial purposes.
Moreover, brines are cost-effective, while also being environmentally friendly. Its alternatives, mineral acids, are hazardous with chemicals such as nitric acid, which contribute to acid rains, and other climate-change-related concerns.
He added, “Brines are a credible alternative to the toxic mineral acids used for metal processing because of their low price. We are now trying to apply the same approach for different metals from different sources of waste, such as smartphones, thermoelectric materials and magnets.”
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