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The first recycling plant in Europe for solar panels!
Nothing lasts forever and solar panels are no exception. What happens to them once they’re out of order? To stop a product that was once environmentally efficient becoming dangerous waste, this factory conducted research and finally came up with a way to recycle them!
Solar energy is booming. In France, 190,000 metric tons of solar panels were sold in 2016-2017 and the figure is set to increase further over the next decade. Excellent news for clean renewable energy production.
Nevertheless, a major challenge lies behind this success: within a few years these panels will be waste that has to be treated. In fact, according to a study conducted by the eco-organism PV CYCLE, in Europe the quantity of solar panels reaching the end of their life doubles every year. By 2020, they are likely to represent 35,000 metric tons of waste every year. And worldwide, there will be tens of millions of metric tons of end-of-life solar panels by 2050 (notably in China, the US, Japan, India and Germany).
Since 2014, solar panel importers and manufacturers have been required to collect and treat them when they reach the stage of being waste. The problem was that in France, and indeed in the rest of Europe, no plant was until now able to entirely fulfill that mission...
Which is why Veolia and PV CYCLE joined forces in 2018 to open the very first European plant for recycling waste solar panels. The plant opened in July 2018 in Rousset, a small town in the Bouches-du-Rhône region.
Before redirecting them into various sectors, the site separates and recycles the panels’ components – everything from the glass to the aluminum frame, junction boxes and connection cables.
4 000 tons recovered per year
For example, scrap glass is used as raw material in the glass industry, the frame goes back to aluminum refineries, and silicon - the main conductive component in the panels - goes back into precious metal channels. The cables and connectors are crushed and sold in the form of copper shot, a mixture of granules that can be used to manufacture new cables and electronic components.
In 2018, the plant managed to process 1,800 metric tons of materials. A capacity that it aims to gradually increase. Goal: 4000 metric tons of waste recycled per year within a few years - with eventually a 95% material recovery rate.
Given the huge development potential in this new recycling sector, PV CYCLE and Veolia soon hope to be in a position to recycle 65% of Europe’s solar panels.