PV CYCLE Achieves New Record For Silicon-Based PV Module Recycling — 96% Recycling Rate In Real-World Performance

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An association that has been described as being the first waste management program in the world for solar photovoltaic technologies, PV CYCLE, has achieved a new record for silicon-based PV module recycling — a 96% recycling rate in real-world performance — according to a new press release.

PV CYCLEThe achievement is the result of a process that allows for the recycling of silicon flakes — made up of a combination of EVA laminate, silicon-based semiconductors, metals, etc — in a relatively cheap but also “environmentally sound” way.

The new process is now being utilized at one of PV CYCLE’s recycling partners for silicon-PV (silicon-photovoltaic) modules in Europe. The new record is a big improvement, as current average recycling rates for silicon-based modules hover around “only” 90%. (Average rates for non-silicon-based solar PV modules gets as high as 97%.)

“Our recent breakthrough in silicon-PV recycling is the result of both continuous improvement and intensive research and development along the value chain,” stated Olmina Della Monica, Head of Treatment & Operations at PV CYCLE Association. “Thanks to our diversified recycling portfolio, PV CYCLE can offer economically viable solutions at the industry’s highest technological standards.”

A bit of background here, from PV CYCLE: “PV CYCLE’s Europe business has already been exceeding both industry and WEEE standards. All types of PV technologies are equally suitable for recycling. PV module recycling allows the recovery of various raw materials and helps conserve natural resources. Today, glass, aluminum, copper, plastics from the cables and junction box, certain semiconductors as well as silver can be recycled. Other materials such as EVA plastics go into energy recovery. PV CYCLE is today the only scheme guaranteeing comprehensive recycling for all kinds of PV modules, including silicon, CdTe, CIGS and flexible modules.”

“Our recycling solutions go far beyond pre-treatment and the recycling of aluminum frames,” stated Jan Clyncke, the Managing Director of the PV CYCLE Association.

Image via PV CYCLE

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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24 thoughts on “PV CYCLE Achieves New Record For Silicon-Based PV Module Recycling — 96% Recycling Rate In Real-World Performance

  • Excellent! I’m going to have to bookmark this for discussions where someone inevitably trots out the “waste and toxic materials in a solar panel that’s junk after a few years” canard…

    • Because their alternative is to burn more coal…

    • Silicon solar panels are completely non-toxic, which probably accounts for the reason they have a lower recycling rate than the other materials types. The higher recycling rate of other types of solar panels is probably because of their toxicity: the companies probably make a *point* of getting them recycled in order to avoid trouble.

      • Silicon solar non toxic hmm. A lot of effort has been put into lowering the emissions during production that at one point made some producers of solar modules completely pointless from a GHG emission point of view. The key point is that for a cost strapped industry as solar module production the loss of any material used is not only harming the environment but also harming the economics of the production.

  • Recycling them already! What is the guarantee period on average?

    • I don’t think many are actually being recycled yet (panels that are several decades old are still in use, as described in a recent article on CT, although as others have pointed out there may be circumstances where upgrading panels may be worth it).

      But, European regulations require manufacturers of electronic and other goods which are difficult to recycle to have a system in place to dispose of/recycle the products. So this company is a “compliance partner”, as they describe themselves: “PV CYCLE is a pan-European Producer scheme, offering dedicated compliance and waste management services for solar energy system products falling under WEEE and Battery Producer Responsibility legislation. The organization has national representations in a series of European countries, managing our waste treatment and compliance

      • Thank you for taking the trouble to inform me! I am all for wind and solar if they are cost competitive over the lifespan. I am a proponent of natural gas, but realize that European prices sans fracking are much higher than American. I believe in fracking and think Europe should go that route rather than dirty coal or nuclear.

        • Well glad you have seen the light on coal. When you say cost competitive are you including NGs externals? Health, environment, other? Since you have said you are pro-fracking, what about it’s water issue? Massive use (shortages caused in Texas) or the disposal. Are you including the cost to clean up the waste water or assuming it will stay free. Or cost of massive NG leaks?

          • I have done four years of research on fracking. It is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Will help people all over the world and replace nuclear as well as coal. I will promote wind and solar again when it becomes cost competitive without too much visual pollution. They both have lots of their own downsides too though.

            My favorite would be solar roofing that is attractive, durable, and long lasting. Must be affordable too though.

          • What “visual pollution”?

          • All is subject to many laws, regulations, State and Federal EPA, criminal and civil lawsuits etc. This is as it should be.

            Meanwhile cheap clean natural gas can run any engine, even replace diesel and gasoline which are substantially dirtier. That would be the next logical step in environmentalism. It was my original goal, but now oil has crashed so my vision will have to wait.

    • The warranty is 10 years or more for better quality panels, but many still come with only a five year warranty. Probably best to stay away from those ones. Fortunately the average life of a panel with a 10 year warranty is likely to be far longer than 10 years. But while older panels have lasted for over 40 years, we simply don’t have enough information yet to be certain about how long modern panels will last.

      • A modern monocrystaline panel with a 20-25 year warranty of at least >80microns wafer thcikness can last for 60-80 years before efficiency loss and lamination spoil the job.

        ~7-9%over the first 2 years

        .35% over the next 48 years

        .2% loss over the next 30, at which point the laminate may need replacing.

        Random question Ronald, are there any honeypot ants in your vicinity? I’m interested in studying/cultivating them, I’d like to investigate possible uses in both agriculture and food storage/natural preservative. I’m after a queen of the Australian Myrmecocystus Mimicus. If you’d know a way obtaining/purchasing one I’d throw you 100AUD on top of the cost.
        I know it’s hardcore of topic but you’re an Aussie with trees in your backdrop thought I’d take a stab.
        If you have any interest, or any answer in either direction, even a ‘No’, I’d appreciate a response.
        I think they’re a possibly untapped resource if the test on their replete caste come out with the properties I’m assuming

        • While 25 year power warranties are common, I only know of one 25 year product warranty and that’s for the Sunpower X-series extremely high efficiency panels, and they carry a hefty premium. Most product warranties are still 10 or maybe 12 years. And there are still panels with only 5 year product warranties around.

          As for honeypot ants, you’ve done well to ask a South Australian, as apparently we have the most. But, the local ants in my area have been pretty much wiped out by invasive Argentinian ants.

          The only way I can think of to get you a honeypot ant queen is to drive until I find some mulga trees and dig up a nest. But I’m afraid I’m not planning to head out into the mulgas any time soon.

          And as an Australian I have major problems sending any native life form overseas since introduced species have done so much damage here. I really feel it on a gut level. I know Australia sends heaps of bees overseas, but that’s not the same as sending a novel species that may turn out to be a disaster like the Argentinian ants here.

          Anyway, I’m not able to help you, at least not at the moment, but in case you haven’t seen it already, here is a link to a 185 page PDF on honeypot ants: http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/Upload/Files-Biological-Sciences/Terr-Inverts-text/guide-to-camponotus-ants-aust-website.pdf

          • I would be very responsible, whole thing contained and enclosed of course, a large tank.

          • Alright, updated my reply quite a bit.

  • Semiconductor recycling has some economic shattering principles. A normal piece of steel can be recycled and remade to be just as good as it’s original.

    A piece of silicon can be recycled and remade *better* than it was before. IE a more efficient panel.

    It may actually be feasible in the future to tear down a solar plant, recycle the panels, then rebuild it with newer and better panels, and still come out ahead cost wise. That’s paradigm shifting over older forms of energy.

    • That’d be interesting.

  • I´m really interested in the scientific background of this matter ? “A piece of silicon can be recycled and remade *better* than it was before. IE a more efficient panel.”

    • make the silicon cleaner, use new production ways that generate higher conversion rates to get more energy out of the same amount of silicium?

      • Also the ever dropping cost of panels is only possible due to better modules that use less materials so the materials used to make one solar module 25 years ago now suffice to make five modules and these newer module output 60% more energy.

  • Recycling of PV panels is a cosmetic rather than a real issue. The mounts are aluminium or steel, indefinitely and routinely recyclable. The modules are doped silicon and glass. Sand is super-abundant. The dopants include rare elements, but in nanograms. The one component that is both fairly rare and used in macroscopic quantities is silver for the connectors. IIRC there is work going on to replace silver with abundant copper or aluminium, which are routinely used as conductors in the electrical industry.

    • problem are those rare things.. they come out of sources that contain promilles or percents and go into products that contain 1000th of promillies = the rare stuff gets dilluted = makes is harder (or impossible) to get it back.
      I’m not saying we run out of the rare stuff, I just say that 100% recycling means you get out what you did put in and diluting some of the stuff that goes in is a problem when you want to get it back out.

  • Hm.. how is the recycling rate of glass/silicon/glass panels, that are available to big customers already?
    Any numbers on those?

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