Below you will find a few examples of companies working on solar panel recycling that goes beyond the so-called “bulk recycling”.
🌱 What is bulk recycling?
The bulk recycling of solar panels focuses solely on recovering the “high-mass materials”, such as the glass and the metal frames.
🌱 Can solar panels be recycled completely?
In June 2023, the “world's first factory dedicated to fully recycling solar panels” opened in Grenoble, France. The factory is owned by a specialist solar recycling company called ROSI. At the factory, the aluminum frames, glass fronts, and “nearly all of the precious materials” (incl. the copper, silicon, and silver) from solar panels are recycled. These materials are then reused in the production of new solar panels.
🌱 Are there solar panel manufacturers that do their own recycling in-house?
At the moment, the US solar panel producer, First Solar is “the only panel manufacturer with global in-house photovoltaic (PV) recycling capabilities”. The process used by First Solar “allows for the recovery of so-called closed-loop semiconductors” and these can then be used in new modules. By using “mining by-products”, First Solar aims to maximize material recovery at the end-of-life and to reduce the need for energy, water, and virgin semiconductor materials in its process. First Solar has said that its process allows for the recovery of over 90% of a module’s materials. The quality of the secondary resources won through the process is said to be high. They can therefore be used for new solar panels, as well as a variety of other aluminum, glass, and rubber products.
🌱 What role can collaboration play in closing the loop for solar panels?
The renewable energy developer, EDF Renewables North America and the California-based recycler, Solarcycle recently concluded a partnership for the recycling of solar panels. Under the agreement, Solarcycle will recycle EDF’s solar panels that are damaged or broken during the construction and operation of EDF’s solar sites in North America. Solarcycle has said that its process allows for 95% of the value of a solar panel to be extracted and recycled. Amongst others, Solarcycle recovers aluminum, copper, glass, silicon, and silver from old solar panels. The idea behind the collaboration is to close EDF’s loop for their solar energy systems. Solarcycle’s recycling plant is located in Texas. Notably, the recycled raw materials won there from EDF’s solar panels will be sold to various solar manufacturers in North America, rather than reused specifically by EDF.
Read more about the recycling of solar panels here: