Solar panel recycling to see massive growth

PV Insider discusses solar panel recycling with Jan Clyncke, Managing Director at PV CYCLE, which has just partnered with Swiss recycling non-profit SENS Foundation to recycle solar panels in accordance with the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) standards.

The long life cycle of PV modules represents an important challenge for the...

Q: What is the advantage PV Cycle offers?

A: By offering a dedicated system, we can help avoid additional costs through unnecessary sorting, contamination with other waste materials or inappropriate recycling processes.

We offer a centrally managed scheme applicable to all EU and EFTA countries that can be tailored to meet specific local needs and recycle all PV technologies.

Our organisation is committed to achieve recycling rates of 85% by 2020 and has herewith set the standard in its industry.

Q: Why did you partner with SENS?

A: SENS is the leading recycling organisation in the Swiss market with solar expertise. National partnerships are the key to effective and custom recycling solutions. Local partners help us to better manage the transition to the new regulatory environment and guarantee the most up-to-date knowledge of the national legislation as to benefit from access to a larger network.

SENS is responsible for the collection and recycling of the discarded PV modules in Switzerland and PV CYCLE contributes its expertise in managing the photovoltaic module waste.

Q: What are the most pressing challenges?

A: The long life cycle of PV modules represents an important challenge for the industry, affecting the financing of future waste management costs.

Many importers and resellers of solar panels will no longer be in the market at that time. So only a dedicated, industry-managed scheme can provide a cost-efficient and sustainable solution that meets the real needs of the industry and its customers. How to ensure that the waste management costs of modules put on the market today are guaranteed in 30 years’ time.

Q: How are solar panels recycled?

A: Glass is used again in glass fibre and packaging glass, aluminium is used again in aluminium products etc. The recycling itself is handled by our partner, facilities which have their own distribution channels.

We work with a number of recyclers in several European countries, using existing facilities from the flat glass recycling industry. We are always on the look-out for new recyclers and regularly evaluate potential partners to make sure they meet our high standards.

PV panels are recycled using high-end processes which guarantee that the materials used are treated adequately and that recovery is maximised.

With today’s available PV recycling technologies, already up to 95% of certain semiconductor materials, including CdTe and CI(G)S can be recovered for use in new modules.

Q: How do you see the PV recycling industry developing?

A: The recycling and waste management industry is like any other industry: only when enough volume is generated can processes be optimised and will investors be willing to support technology improvement.

We take an active role in promoting innovation and development of new technologies that can make the most out of PV panel recycling.

PV CYCLE has collected 9,548 tonnes of discarded PV modules in the European Union, beginning in 2010, but most of today’s recycling of PV modules is from transport or installation damage. In most cases the glass is broken and, therefore, cannot be repaired or exchanged in an economical and sustainable manner anymore.

By contrast, the currently installed solar capacity is estimated at 8 million tonnes. So when more significant PV module waste quantities arises in 10 to 15 years, the take-back and recycling industry must be prepared and have an infrastructure in place able to efficiently adapt to much higher demand.