Many solar panels in the UK are reaching the end of their 25-year lifespans, and are being decommissioned and removed from rooftops. For a long time, the process after decommission involved the panels being recycled in all-purpose glass recycling facilities, which for all its benefits does result in some wastage. Glass recycling only salvages glass and aluminium materials, and the remainder is burned in cement ovens.
Until now, that is.
1,300 tonnes of recycled solar panels
Europe’s first solar-panel recycling plant has landed in France, and it has a contract to recycle 1,300 tonnes of solar panels in 2018. Working alongside solar-recycling organisation PV Recycle France, the new plant even wants to increase the number to 4,000 tonnes by 2022.
The company in charge of spearheading the new plant is French water-and-waste group Veolia. According to Veolia, the first wave of ageing PV panels are now beginning to be removed from rooftops quickly enough to warrant building the recycling plant.
How it’s going to work
Veolia’s advanced machinery will disassemble the panels, recuperating all of the materials needed to build new panels. Those materials include glass, silicon, copper, silver, and various plastics.
The Veolia vision actually reaches beyond France, as the company wants the practice of dedicated solar-panel recycling to grow internationally and to become an industry standard.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), building dedicated recycling plants makes complete sense, especially for the long term. IRENA has even predicted that recovered PV materials could be worth $450 million (£343 million) by 2020, exceeding $15 billion (£11 million) by 2050.
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