PV module recycling should prioritize high-purity silicon recovery, more life cycle-related R & D needed

An international research team led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has emphasized the importance of the R&D effort aimed at recovering high-purity silicon from end-of-life solar modules. 

The authors of the paper Research and development priorities for silicon photovoltaic module recycling to support a circular economy, published in Nature Energy, stressed the recovery and reuse of silicon should be prioritized. The researchers said current panel recycling efforts rarely recover silicon of the purity required for reuse in modules, with the situation exacerbated by cracks at the solar cell level. With today’s cells made from ever thinner, more fragile silicon wafers – and, therefore, more prone to cracking – introducing a direct silicon reuse strategy is becoming even harder. 

“The environmental and economic impacts of recycling practices should be explored with techno-economic analyses and life cycle assessments to optimize solutions and minimize trade-offs,” wrote the paper’s authors. “Another challenge today is scale, which translates to not enough modules reaching end of life to warrant investment in PV-specific recycling infrastructure and what we call integrated, high-value recycling systems,” research co-author Garvin Heath told pv magazine. “But R&D is needed to be ready once the scale is there, which is predictable and will come.“ 

Read more here.

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