IEA-PVPS Task 12
PV Environmental Health And Safety

Why recycling is already important now

PV modules are designed to generate clean, renewable energy  for  over  25  years. With  the  first  significant installations  in  the  early  1990s, full-scale  end-of-life recycling is still another 10-15 years away. 

Nevertheless, the PV industry is working to create truly sustainable energy solutions that take into consideration the environmental impacts of all stages of the product life cycle, from raw material sourcing through end-of-life collection and recycling. Although the PV industry is young, leading manufacturers embrace the concept of producer responsibility and have come together to put in place a voluntary, industry-wide take-back and recycling programme. By addressing future recycling needs now, we can offer a truly sustainable energy solution today to help prevent climate change tomorrow.  

The environmental benefits of recycling have been assessed specifically for the Chevetogne recycling pilot project and the results of this assessment have been presented at the Photovoltaics Recycling Workshop held during the 34th PV Specialists Conference in Philadelphia on June 11, 2009 by Mr. Karsten Wambach. For an overview of the relative burdens and disburdens to the environment of this pilot project, go to the Facts and Figures section.

PV CYCLE

The creation of PV CYCLE (www.pvcycle.org) in 2007 demonstrates that the PV Industry, although being a relatively young industry, is very much concerned with its environmental sustainability. In March 2010, PV CYCLE's 75 members represented 85% of the total European PV market. They have agreed to implement the collection & recycling system that has been developed by PV CYCLE and will soon be put into practice. The basics of this system can be found here.

The following presentation gives an overview of PV CYCLE objectives, activities and member companies.

How it works in practice

As for now, three companies have put up recycling facilities.

Both companies are involved in the recycling of CdTe modules. First Solar is involved in the collection of their modules, the shredding and crushing of them. Afterwards they separate the metal-rich liquid content from the solid materials (glass and laminate material). The metal-rich filter cake, obtained after precipitation is further treated by 5NPV. They will then further separate the substances (Cd and Te) through a typical hydro process.

For more specific information on the processes involved in CdTe recycling, click here.

Sunicon is involved in the recycling of c-Si modules. The process involves a thermal, physical and chemical treatment. The company has been involved in the recycling of the Chevetogne modules. This has been a very important pilot project which has proven the viability of its recycling process. Currently, the company is working on the development of a new automated process.

Click here for more information on the recycling process for c-Si modules.  

Projects

  • SENSE Project (Sustainability Evaluation of Solar Energy Systems)

This project was funded by the European Commission 5th Framework Programme (FP 5) and lasted from January 2003 until June 2006. SENSE dealt with the development of some recycling strategies for different Thin Film technologies (CIGS, CdTe and a-Si). It was underlined that recycling is not only a way to save energy for the primary production of materials, but that it also affect the energy payback time (EPBT) and material availability and costs of production. Moreover, the project also considered the environmental performance of solar modules through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) analyses. 

The resulting reports can be downloaded here.

  • RESOLVED Project (Recovery of Solar Valuable Materials, Enrichment and Decontamination)