Australian solar panel manufacturer Tindo Solar has committed to a recycling strategy for decommissioned panels, teaming with Reclaim PV in a bid to combat the growing number of used modules which are going to landfill.
Australia has one of the highest uptakes of rooftop solar in the world, with more than 3 million homes now using solar panel power but an increasing number of modules are entering the waste stream as they reach their end of life while others are being discarded prematurely as technological advances increase efficiency and reduce costs of new modules.
Researchers from the University of South Australia have estimated that more than 100,000 tonnes of solar modules will enter the waste stream by 2035 and currently almost all expired or discarded solar panels in Australia go into landfill.
Tindo chief executive officer Shayne Jaenisch said it is imperative the industry address the issue, revealing the group’s installation business is removing hundreds of end-of-life panels each month, replacing them with the company’s own panels.
Jaenisch said the number of faulty, non-performing and end-of-life solar panels coming off rooftops presented the company with an opportunity to direct the old panels to the recycling sector.
“We recognise that a fully sustainable energy system requires a solution for its waste product, which in our industry is disused panels,” he said.
“Reclaim PV’s processes allow for a whole-life cycle approach to solar panels, meaning they needn’t become landfill. It’s a really important development in the energy transition.”
Tindo’s commitment follows Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s announcement earlier this year that the solar manufacturing industry must produce a “clear timeline” for establishing an industry wide recycling strategy for end-of-life technology with the government determined to avoid what she labelled a looming “landfill nightmare”.
The minister said the solar industry needs to design and present a finalised industry-led product stewardship scheme by June 2022 with the nationwide scheme to be operational by June 2023.
Reclaim PV director and founder Clive Fleming said Australia already has a solar panel disposal challenge on its hands and there is a need to accelerate the end-to-end recovery and recycling of solar panels.
“The establishment of a national recovery and recycling network is an absolute necessity for the PV industry,” he said.
Reclaim PV has developed recycling facilities in Adelaide and Brisbane and is establishing a national network of collection locations for solar modules to be recycled at its plants.
The company’s recycling system comprises a three-stage process of manual separation, thermal separation, followed by a chemical process that sees about an estimated 98% of the solar panel recycled. The recovered aluminium, silicon, copper, silver and glass – as well as recovered glue constituents – are then re-used in the manufacture of new products.
The junction box accounts for the 2% of the panel that isn’t currently being recycled but Reclaim PV is working with researchers to develop a solution.
“Waste is never waste. It is a resource, and we just need to treat it as such,” Fleming said. “This is the key concept of the circular economy, that nothing is wasted, and everything is re-used as part of a continuous cycle. But this doesn’t work unless we’re all playing our part.”
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