Photovoltaic Cycle: Making PV module recycling a reality

This month the take-back and recycling scheme for Photovoltaic (PV) modules has been rolled out in Germany. In this country, approximately 3,000 tons of end-of- life panels will be generated this year representing about 50% of the European total. The estimates for 2030 show that this figure will rise to 130,000 tons in Europe. The members of PV CYCLE have shown their commitment to protect the environment and are putting into practice the promises made in the last few years.

The last few months of 2009 were particularly exciting for PV CYCLE. All the efforts put into the imminent launch of the scheme are paying off and the association will be operational in Germany during the first quarter of the year. Preparations are well underway and Hellmann Logistics was selected to take care of the collection and transportation of end-of-life modules. In addition, soon the first agreement will be signed with one or more recycling plant(s) which can recycle the collected modules.

The Origins of PV CYCLE

PV CYCLE was set up in 2007 to bring together all major European PV producers and distributors.

The members of PV CYCLE include mostly manufacturers and importers of PV modules and represent more than 85% of what has been put on the market in Europe. Their contributions will serve to finance the set up and implementation of the take-back and recycling scheme. However, money alone will not make the system work. To guarantee that end-of-life PV modules get adequately recycled, it is imperative that wholesalers, retailers, electrical installation contractors, system integrators, and project developers also get involved in the process.

Thinking Ahead

According to the figures presented by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) in a recent study entitled ‘SET For 2020′, about 4.5 GW were already installed in Europe in 2008. This represents 18% of all the new installed electrical capacity. PV has become the fastest growing renewable energy technology and, as EPIA’s study suggests, PV electricity could provide up to 12% by 2020.

Therefore, it is vital to start thinking ahead and putting into place the necessary mechanisms to take care of the recycling of PV modules. Photovoltaic energy has an enormous potential to represent a viable source of renewable energy for Europe. By setting up PV CYCLE, the industry has also shown its voluntary determination to make solar energy “DoubleGreen” and take responsibility for its waste. The substantial reduction in component incineration in favour of an increased volume of recycled modules will also contribute to recovering precious raw materials and preserving the planet’s scarce natural resources.

Supporting the Network

The system PV CYCLE has envisioned will be based on the creation of a network of collection points that will operate with a reverse logistics approach. Special containers will be permanently located across the country in distribution and retailing stores, installers’ facilities, storage and transfer stations. End-of-life PV modules will be taken to those disposal locations by either the owners or the installers right after they are dismantled. Where necessary, PV CYCLE will arrange the pickup and transportation. Temporary containers will also be placed at large construction, renovation and demolition project sites.

In order for the whole system to operate efficiently, as many actors as possible in all stages of the value chain must become involved. The distribution and installation channels of photovoltaic modules are therefore crucial for the PV CYCLE scheme to move forward because the replacement of modules will likely be done by the same companies that took care of the initial sale and installation and who can now contribute to their appropriate disposal.

PV CYCLE’s take-back and recycling scheme will be fully transparent. To accomplish that goal, an independent monitoring committee will be created with representatives from the European institutions and NGOs. They will be in charge of supervising the work and progress of the association under the presidency of Prof. Jef Poortmans, a well-known specialist in PV technology. In addition, PV CYCLE will issue an annual public report on the performance of the system as well as the future perspectives.

26 January 2010, Berlin, Germany

In the framework of the international collaboration IEA PVPS Task 12 “Environment Health &Safety”, EPIA, PVCYCLE and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) will host the 1st International Conference on PV Module Recycling on the 26 January 2010 in Berlin, Germany.

The event aims at presenting the state-of-the-art PV module recycling and providing a platform for discussion between the PV industry and the most experienced players in recycling from other related sectors.

During the first session, an overview of all the recovery and recycling techniques for the different PV technologies (c-Si, CdTe, CIGS, thin film silicon) will be given by the most experienced industry and knowledgeable research centres.

During the second session, industries involved in recycling processes from other sectors (e.g WEEE recycling, glass, lamps, etc.) will share experiences and synergies which could be applied to the PV module recycling technologies. A discussion on recycling costs and future plans for recycling in the EU will take place during the last session of the conference.