Fueling the fire is coverage of the cleanup of defective or unsellable thin-film PV modules and other “hazardous waste” left behind by now-bankrupt Abound Solar at its four Colorado warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy in June 2012, and since then, has been making headlines for violating state hazardous waste laws, including operating without proper hazardous waste handling permits. The Loveland, Colorado-based solar module manufacturer left behind nearly 100,000 defective and unused solar modules, along with 4,100 gallons of cadmium-tainted waste in drums and tanks, and building-wide cadmium dust contamination at two sites.
Abound’s facilities included two manufacturing plants and two warehouses for storing finished and returned modules. The two warehouses had no contamination or wastes aside from pallets of modules, which were deemed hazardous waste by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
In documents and news reports, the modules were called “hazardous waste.” However, what most media outlets did not clarify was the reasoning. “Once abandoned, the modules—whether intact or damaged—contain cadmium, and the abandonment constituted an illegal ‘disposal,’” explains department spokesman Mark Salley. “Cadmium is not a particularly difficult contaminant to control. It is in a metallic form combined with another metal—tellurium.”
The modules produced by Abound were based on a thin-film PV technology that applies a semiconductor layer of cadmium telluride atop a sheet of glass. A similar process is utilized by First Solar and other thin-film solar manufacturers.
As of July 2013, three of the four Abound sites had been “decontaminated” in accordance with a compliance order issued by the CDPHE in February. About 70,000 usable modules were purchased by Best Safety Glass in Singapore, and the remaining unsellable lot, some 22,000 defective or broken modules, were shipped to First Solar’s thin-film recycling facility in Ohio, where up to 95% of the semiconductor material can be reclaimed for reuse in new modules. Other miscellaneous wastes were shipped to landfills and hazardous treatment facilities.