Development Highlights: Circular Model of Solar System Recycling

Development Highlights: Circular Model of Solar System Recycling

The New South Wales (NSW) government is promoting a new $10 million recycling initiative for the solar sector, one that could help to create a circular economy.
The investment is driven by the recognition that investing in recycling is vital if the state is to meet its commitment of net zero CO2 emissions | Learn more on Commonshare | by 2050.
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High Forecasts of Solar Sector Wastes
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According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA’s) Director of Circular Economy, Kathy Giunta, current amounts of waste are low, but “now is the time to invest in developing systems for collecting and recycling these valuable resources like rare metals.” 
EPA forecasts predict that by 2025, between 3,000 and 10,000 tons of waste solar panels will be generated by NSW every year. By 2035, the waste truckloads of glass, silicon, and twisted metals are expected to reach 40,000 to 71,000 tons every year.
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Recycling Challenges
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There are challenges associated with recycling solar panels, particularly with regard to separating components affixed with strong adhesives to the glass in solar panels. One of these adhesives is ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA), a strong industrial adhesive. 
Using chemical solvents to free the components from the glass is one option, but it is not a very environmentally-friendly option. 
A better approach: Furnace heating
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A better approach is that pioneered by Adelaide-based Reclaim PV, a company that has developed a process for furnace heating the panels in stages. The process allows for the separation of components without using toxic chemical solvents.
Potential for recycling 
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And new research from the University of New South Wales, conducted by Professor CheeMun Chong of the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, examines the economic issues, technologies, and possibilities for recycling photovoltaic cells once they are at the end of their life cycle. 
The University of NSW research focused on the potential to reuse glass, aluminum, silicon, silver, and copper. It also looked at how to keep toxic components, including lead, cadmium, and telluride, out of landfills and thus out of soils and groundwater.
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Circular Economy Proposals 
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The NSW EPA is now asking for proposals for recycling projects that will “test the commercial and logistical feasibility of collecting and aggregating solar panel and battery systems for recycling and reuse; linking these resources with end markets to show end-to-end outcomes.”
Stage 1 of the EPA’s process will identify whole-of-supply-chain projects that manage solar panels and battery systems within a circular economy framework. Applicants that pass Stage 1 will be invited to apply for Stage 2, in which they develop their project plan, formalize networks of participants, and complete a detailed budget. 
The potential for reusing photovoltaic materials in a circular economy is vast. According to Professor Chong, materials recovered from 80 million tons of end-of-life solar panels forecasted to be generated worldwide by 2050 would translate to “two billion new solar panels.”  

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