Recycling old solar modules

Recycling old solar modules

The energy transition and high energy prices have increased the demand for photovoltaics worldwide. It is foreseeable that a large quantity of photovoltaic systems will reach the end of their life cycle in the coming years. For Germany alone, it is estimated that approximately 5 million solar modules will be discarded annually in the future. Several companies have already turned their attention to this issue and developed technologies to process material from photovoltaic modules. 

Under the leadership of the company Veolia, the project "ReProSolar" was launched at the beginning of the year, it is supported 4.8 million euros of funding from the European Union. Together with partner companies from the public and private sectors, operating along the value chain of recycling solar modules, all raw materials used in the PV modules are fully recovered. These can then be further processed in industry. It is planned to process 5000 tons of solar modules annually in a test facility by 2023. Funding for the project runs until early 2025. 

The start-up SolarMaterials, from Braunschweig, has also designed a technically sophisticated process for recycling: "With the technology we have developed, we are able to precisely attack the connecting plastic layer. Once this is dissolved, the cover glass can be removed and we can access the printed silver tracks on the solar cells as well as the cell itself," explains technical managing director and co-founder Jan Bargel. 

"This not only recovers the silicon, which is energetically expensive to produce, but more importantly recovers the valuable silver. The recycling itself thus becomes economically viable," says Fridolin Franke, commercial managing director and co-founder of SolarMaterials. (pv-magazine, 6/10/21)

With SolarMaterials' patent application, the process is now to be scaled up to module size. As early as 2023, a first industrial recycling line, with an annual capacity of around 4500 tons, is to be built in Magdeburg. A network for the return and disposal of old solar modules is also to be established from spring 2022.


pv-magazine, article by Petra Hannen (11/10/2021):

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pv-magazine, article by Sandra Enkhardt (10.06.2021):

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