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Fig. 1: Old modules are prepared for the recycling process in the pilot system in Freiberg.
© Sunicon
Reprocessing more cost-efficient than purchasing new wafers
Projektinfo 02/2010
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Recycling photovoltaic modules

The solar industry is growing. The installed capacity is set to increase continually. In Germany, new photovoltaic modules with a capacity of around three gigawatts were installed in 2009, while the amount of electricity generated by PV systems rose from 4.4 TWh (2008) to 6.2 TWh. New large-scale projects all over the world, as well as the growing presence on house roofs in Germany, are causing demand for raw materials to rise further. All of this, as well as the valuable materials used in PV systems, means that recycling makes economic sense.

What was previously an irrelevant issue for the solar industry, due to photovoltaic modules' long service lives of 25 years or more, will present it with new challenges in the future. In recent years, the first photovoltaic systems have reached the end of their days and been recycled in a Deutsche Solar AG pilot system. By 2015, a considerable number of PV modules will have fallen into disuse and the resulting amount of waste is expected to rise sharply. By means of recycling, valuable raw materials can be recovered from the generators, thus reducing the demand for primary raw materials.


Since 2002, in a joint project funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, researchers from Deutsche Solar AG and TU Bergakademie Freiberg have been working on making module recycling more environmentally friendly and efficient. Stateof-the-art technology now enables recycling of production waste, completely worn-out modules and broken modules, achieving recycling rates of over 95%. In order to prepare the old modules optimally, a high-quality comprehensive recycling system is needed along the entire solar value-creation chain. The solar industry has founded the association PV CYCLE as a joint initiative, so as to develop such a system at EU level.

Projektinfo 02/2010:
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Sunicon AG

Project partner
TU Freiberg, AOC