The state government-owned company Breakthrough Victoria has announced a new Challenge program which will see it invest up to $10 million to support the development of new and improved technology to recycle or reuse solar panels, that would otherwise become waste.
With more than three million rooftop solar installations across the country, including more than 600,000 installed across Victoria, an estimated 187,000 tonnes of solar panel waste are expected to be generated in the state by 2035.
Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said there are currently limited options available for managing and recycling solar panel waste, but there are increasing opportunities to recover valuable materials from panels that can no longer be used and develop new products and markets for them.
“Our Solar Waste Challenge is an example of how we are working with industry and innovators in our nation-leading clean energy transition, while proactively addressing potential environmental impacts,” she said.
Breakthrough Victoria, which manages a $2 billion fund set up by the Victorian government to drive investment in research, innovation and commercialisation, is calling for “novel, commercial and scalable solutions” that create high-value products from end-of-life solar panels, reducing the number of panels going to landfill and increasing the return from the panels through clean separation technology.
Breakthrough Victoria chief executive Grant Dooley said innovations may include new separation and recycling technologies, collection and logistics developments and ways to maximise harvesting of materials to create new, high-value products.
“We are looking for innovators to solve the issue of solar panel waste well before it becomes a much bigger problem,” he said.
“The Breakthrough Victoria Challenge encourages solar and recycling experts across the spectrum of science, technology and infrastructure to look for creative solutions to unlock value in solar panel disposal and recycling.”
One of the challenges the solar industry faces is the retrieval of valuable components like silicon and silver, which can be potentially harvested and repurposed for other industry applications. Dooley said improvements in technology have the potential to increase the value of recovered waste materials as waste volumes grow exponentially.
“It’s clear that investment in alternative waste management solutions is needed to develop the technology to generate value in solar recycling,” he said.
“End-of-life solar panels embody the circular economy challenge the industry faces, but also the opportunity of turning a waste stream into a commercial product and creating a strong market for the solar panel recycling industry.
“This is a first step in helping accelerate and scale up a commercially viable system of solar panel recycling in Victoria.”
Solar panel recyclers and innovators seeking investment can apply for funding by submitting a proposal through Breakthrough Victoria’s official Challenge page.
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