Australia prepares for first solar ‘upcycling’ facility while recycling operations expand

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This week, Victorian universities in partnership with company OJAS announced their plans to build a facility in Victoria to convert used pv modules to ‘value-added’ materials had progressed. Likewise, Reclaim PV announced new partnerships and drop off locations as it prepares to grow substantially in 2022.

Upcycling pv panels

The University of Melbourne and RMIT University have partnered with the Melbourne-based company OJAS to develop an ‘upcycling’ facility which will reclaim valuable materials from PV modules including clean glass, silicon cells and polymers.

The project originally commenced last year, in 2020, after OJAS was awarded a $3 million federal government project grant. CEO Neeraj Das said a site lease in Victoria has been secured in June for the facility, and the European separation technology it plans to use to cost-effectively recover glass, silicon cells and polymer from PV panel waste will soon be tested and commissioned. 

Failed modules, stripped of their frames for recycling, destined for landfill in Australia.

Image: Image: LG

The upcycling plant, which the team say is the ‘first of its kind’, is expected to be up and running by the end of 2023. It will collect modules via a nation-wide network and supply the recovered materials to downstream businesses for value-added products. The ambition is to rollout the solution across Australia.

Currently the project’s collaborators at the University of Melbourne and RMIT are looking to find “optimal applications” of these recovered PV components. According to their statement, research to date has found the fine particles of ground PV glass can be effectively used as a partial replacement for sand in concrete. 

Dr Massoud Sofi, the project’s research lead from the University of Melbourne, says this application can conserve raw materials used for concrete production and reduce its carbon footprint – which is astoundingly high, responsible for for 8% of emissions globally. The research team are apparently now looking at developing specific applications of the PV glass-based concrete materials too. 

At RMIT, a team led by Dr Ylias Sabri, is investigating whether the refined materials could be reused in solar panel production. They are also looking at the processing of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), a material with good radiation transmission and low degradability to sunlight.

Reclaim PV

South Australian company Reclaim PV Recycling is also gearing up to expand its operations which begun this year with the launch of its first recycling facility in Adelaide. It recently welcomed three new network partners, RAA, Enerven and Tindo, two new drop off locations, and two new recycling hubs in Townsville and Bundaberg in preparation.

Clive Fleming’s Reclaim PV Recycling service is stepping up a notch, with a new dedicated solar panel recycling site secured in Lonsdale, South Australia.

Image: Reclaim PV Recycling

It expects to collect more than 90,000 panels or the equivalent of 3,000 tonnes of PV modules in 2022. “These partnerships are an important step forward in the establishment of Australia’s first national solar panel recovery and recycling network, and importantly, offer Australians an easy way to arrange the responsible recycling of their end-of-life solar panels,” Director of Reclaim PV Recycling, Clive Fleming, said.

Notably, Reclaim’s partnership with Tindo, Australia’s only solar panel manufacturer, creates a full recycling loop for Australian-made solar panels. 

Reclaim uses a recycling process known as pyrolysis – a thermal deconstruction technique which breaks down and pulls apart PV panels into their component parts by passing them through a high-temperature furnace. Upon completion of the thermal extraction process, the recovered components are sorted and placed into collection bins for delivery to materials companies, ensuring all recoverable materials are available for re-use.

Reclaim PV’s new furnace at their facility in Adelaide allows up 98% of the solar panel to be recycled.

Image: Reclaim PV

Reclaim’s recycling facility followed Lotus Energy’s Victorian plant, Australia’s first, which began operating in May.

According to the International Renewable Agency, the value of materials from solar module recycling and upcycling will be worth around US$15 billion (AU$21 billion) by the year 2050.

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