NREL publishes solar panel end-of-life study, encourage LCAs
Researchers at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have conducted the first global assessment into approaches to end-of-life management for photovoltaic modules. PV modules have a 30-year lifespan and the volume of modules that reach the end of their operational lifetime could total 80 million metric tonnes by 2050.
NREL’s study considers the challenge posed by the nature of the waste from old PV modules, which are made of valuable, precious, critical, and toxic materials. The authors focused on the recycling of crystalline silicon, a material used in more than 90% of installed PV systems in a very pure form. It accounts for about half of the energy, carbon footprint, and cost to produce PV modules, but only a small portion of their mass.
Based on their findings, the authors recommend research and development to reduce recycling costs and environmental impacts, while maximising material recovery. They also emphasise that the environmental and economic impacts of recycling practices should be explored using techno-economic analyses and life-cycle assessments.
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