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Conclusion, outlook

Taking back and recycling PV waste free of charge makes sense ecologically and economically. In the future, automated recycling processes will make it possible to achieve recycling rates of over 95% and to recover raw materials without cost, or even at a profit. Recycling has positive effects on the entire energy balance and ecological balance of PV technology. Modules with solar cells made solely from newly produced silicon need three times as long to generate the energy required for their manufacture as modules of equal capacity with solar cells made using recycled material. Wafers for which a proportion of recycled material is used in their manufacture are also significantly more cost-effective than new ones.

The joint project is conducting important preliminary work for the development of a more environmentally friendly and effective recycling process on an industrial scale. The enhanced pilot recycling method can process new cell and module technologies, heavily damaged modules and thin-film modules into higher-quality products. The method has also been successfully developed further for etching back solar cells and broken solar cells to yield new products, such as fine-grained silicon. Standardised and automated workflows enable an economically and ecologically optimal recycling result. The researchers are constantly enhancing and optimising the reprocessing procedures. The results which can be achieved in this way improve if the processing methods can be adapted to suit the respective cell technology and module technology more specifically.

As yet, only two processes are being implemented on a large scale: Deutsche Solar's treatment process, mainly for crystalline silicon modules, and First Solar's process for CdTe modules. Processes for other module types still require development expenditure. A Europe-wide efficient recycling system which can process future waste volumes must be developed, both for the image of a sustainable photovoltaic industry and in order for a sustainable photovoltaic industry to function. Thus, the industry's recycling association has a demanding task to perform. The materials and compounds used in products greatly influence the subsequent recycling possibilities and process costs. Therefore, already when developing new technologies, it is important to consider how these materials and compounds can be dismantled and recycled in a correct and environmentally compatible way at the end of their usage periods. In this regard, appropriate selection of materials and precise documentation of their constituents is helpful.


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Sunicon AG

Project partner
TU Freiberg, AOC