Over 88% of the materials of which a solar PV module is composed can be recovered through the implementation of the recycling technology thus far developed, according to a study undertaken by the Recyclia environmental platform and private enterprise Recyberica Ambiental. Both organisations specialise in the collection and management of electronic waste. The findings of the study were made public on May 17th, World Recycling Day.
According to the study, for each tonne of end-of-life solar PV modules (PV modules have an average weight of 35 kg), current technology enables the recovery of 750 kg of glass and silicon-related materials, 120 kg of metals (mainly aluminium from the metal frames and, in lower quantities, copper from wiring, and iron) and 20 kg of plastic.
Solar PV modules can also contain contaminants that may be damaging to the environment if not correctly treated, such as cadmium telluride and silicon dioxide. The latter is commonly found in glass. These materials are extracted and suitably treated in processes designed to ensure that they are innocuous.
Recycling at authorised facilities
Recyclia and Recyberica Ambiental are pleased with the fact that just two years after solar PV modules recycling became compulsory, and with the treatment technology still developing, it is now possible to achieve a recycling rate of 8 percentage points higher than the targets set out in legislation. By way of example, the current materials recovery rate of 88% is the same as that for a printer or multi-function unit.
In order to achieve these recovery figures, the two organisations highlight the need for this equipment to be collected and treated by duly authorised agents and facilities implementing processes featuring the best available technologies.
Since 2015, producers and importers of solar PV modules in Spain have been obliged to organise and finance the collection and recycling of this equipment at the end of its service life.
In 2013, well before the legislation came into force, Recyclia took responsibility for the management of solar photovoltaic panels in Spain. In that year, the platform entered into a cooperation agreement with PV Cycle, the European association responsible for the recycling of this type of equipment throughout Europe. PV Cycle represents 90% of European producers and importers.