Shining a light on recycling solar PV modules
The first global assessment into the most promising approaches to end-of-life management of solar PV modules has just been released.
Solar PV modules have a 30-year lifespan and there are currently no definitive plans for how to manage the unit at the end of its lifespan.
IRENA estimates that global PV waste streams would grow from 250,000 tons at the end of 2016 (less than 1% of installed capacity) to more than five million metric tons by 2050.
In addition to sheer quantity, the nature of the waste also poses a challenge because PV modules are made of valuable, precious, critical and toxic material. There is currently no standard for how to recycle these valuable materials or mitigate the toxic ones.
Researchers at the US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have done a global assessment of all PV recycling efforts to identify the most promises approaches to dealing with these issues.
“PV is a major part of the energy transition,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at NREL who specialises in sustainability science. “We must be good stewards of these materials and develop a circular economy for PV modules.”
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