Focus Around the world

26.06.2024

ENEA's Solutions for the Recycling of End-of-Life Photovoltaic Panels

Researchers from ENEA’s Sustainability Department have worked on various fronts to recover essential materials such as silicon, aluminum, and copper, as well as glass, silver, and polymer components.


 

ENEA has achieved significant results in developing innovative technologies for the recovery and valorization of materials from end-of-life photovoltaic panels.

These solutions aim to make valuable materials available to the industry, in line with the principles of technological innovation and the circular economy.

 

Photovoltaic Panels: Key End-of-Life Projects

Researchers from ENEA’s Sustainability Department have worked on various fronts to recover essential materials such as silicon, aluminum, and copper, in addition to glass, silver, and polymer components. These innovations were presented during the workshop “Recovery & Recycling from PV Panels” at the Circular Economy and Urban Mining Symposium (SUM 2024).

Among the key projects, ReSiELP, funded by KIC EIT RawMaterials, has led to the creation of a plant for the thermal treatment of panels and systems for the treatment of derived effluents. This project also includes the assessment of environmental and economic performance through Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC) methodologies.

In the IEMAP project, funded by MASE under the “Mission Innovation” initiative, ENEA is developing a process based on a patent that uses infrared treatment to recover key components of photovoltaic panels, such as glass and cells, avoiding combustion and reducing atmospheric emissions.

Additionally, ENEA has patented an environmentally friendly process to transform the silicon from end-of-life panels into an innovative nanomaterial, useful for cheaper and more efficient batteries. This process can be applied both in recycling plants and production facilities to recover silicon from defective panels.

 

Photovoltaic Panels: Research and Innovation Can Reduce Resource Scarcity

The PARSIVAL project, funded by KIC EIT RawMaterials, aims to develop technological solutions to treat recovered silicon cells, producing anodes for lithium-ion batteries with higher energy density than commercial ones.

All these recovery activities are conducted in collaboration with ENEA’s Department of Energy Technologies and Renewable Sources, which studies, designs, and creates next-generation cells, modules, and batteries, virtuously closing the life cycle.

“The growth of photovoltaic waste requires special attention at the end-of-life of panels,” explains Marco Tammaro, head of ENEA’s Laboratory of Technologies for Reuse, Recycling, Recovery, and Valorization of Waste and Materials. “Research and innovation can reduce resource scarcity and imports from abroad, at lower costs than raw materials.”

Maria Lucia Protopapa, from the Functional Materials and Technologies for Sustainable Applications Laboratory, emphasizes that “the development of high-value recycling solutions will allow the reintroduction of recovered materials and components into new production cycles, with energy benefits.”

With global photovoltaic installations growing exponentially, reaching 1,047 GW by the end of 2022 and projected to 18,200 GW by 2050, the volume of panels to be disposed of could reach 78 million tons.

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