Fluoride Action Network

Resource efficient recovery of critical and precious metals from waste silicon PV panel recycling.

Source: Waste management 91:156-167. | May 8th, 2019 | By Ardente F, Latunussa CEL, and Blengini GA.
Location: International


  • Resource efficiency of PV recycling processes is analysed in different scenarios.
  • Processes with high-efficiency can recycle up to 83% of the waste panel.
  • Obtaining high-quality recycled materials from PV grants significant benefits.
  • The treatment of halogenated plastics represents a bottleneck for PV recycling.
  • Knowing the composition of panels is essential to boost their efficient recycling.

Although the amount of waste photovoltaic (PV) panels is expected to grow exponentially in the next decades, little research on the resource efficiency of their recycling has been conducted so far. The article analyses the performance of different processes for the recycling of crystalline silicon PV waste, in a life cycle perspective. The life cycle impacts of the recycling are compared, under different scenarios, to the environmental benefits of secondary raw materials recovered. Base-case recycling has a low efficiency and, in some cases, not even in line with legislative targets. Conversely, high-efficient recycling can meet these targets and allows to recover high quality materials (as silicon, glass and silver) that are generally lost in base-case recycling. The benefits due to the recovery of these materials counterbalance the larger impacts of the high-efficiency recycling process. Considering the full life cycle of the panel, the energy produced by the panel grants the most significant environmental benefits. However, benefits due to high-efficient recycling are relevant for some impact categories, especially for the resource depletion indicator. The article also points out that thermal treatments are generally necessary to grant the high efficiency in the recycling. Nevertheless, these treatments have to be carefully assessed since they can be responsible for the emissions of air pollutants (as hydrogen fluoride potentially released from the combustion of halogenated plastics in the panel’s backsheet). The article also identifies and assesses potential modifications to the high-efficiency recycling process, including the delocalisation of some treatments for the optimisation of waste transport and the introduction of pyrolysis in the thermal processing of the waste. Finally, recommendations for product designers, recyclers and policymakers are discussed, in order to improve the resource efficiency of future PV panels.

*Read full article online at http://fluoridealert.org/wp-content/uploads/ardente-2019.pdf