Get our free book (in Spanish or English) on rainwater now - To Catch the Rain.
Producer responsibility and recycling solar photovoltaic modules
Rapid expansion of the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is quickly causing solar to play a growing importance in the energy mix of the world. Over the full life cycle, although to a smaller degree than traditional energy sources, PV also creates solid waste. This paper examines the potential need for PV recycling policies by analyzing existing recycling protocols for the five major types of commercialized PV materials. The amount of recoverable semiconductor material and glass in a 1 m2 area solar module for the five types of cells is quantified both physically and the profit potential of recycling is determined. The cost of landfill disposal of the whole solar module, including the glass and semiconductor was also determined for each type of solar module. It was found that the economic motivation to recycle most PV modules is unfavorable without appropriate policies. Results are discussed on the need to regulate for appropriate energy and environmental policy in the PV manufacturing industry particularly for PV containing hazardous materials. The results demonstrate the need to encourage producer responsibility not only in the PV manufacturing sector but also in the entire energy industry.
Cost of Recycling vs. Re-sale Cost
As can be seen in the table below, the cost of recycling three types of solar modules (CIGS, CdTe, x-Si) is compared to the profit made by re-selling the recovered semiconductor material and glass. In the case of CIGS, the profit of re-selling recovered materials greatly exceeds the cost of recycling the module. However, for CdTe and x-Si modules, the cost of recycling is higher than that of the profit of re-selling recovered material.
Cost of Recycling vs. Cost of Landfilling
It was determined that the cost of disposal for CIGS, c-Si, p-Si and a-Si were between $0.5 to $0.9 per module. However, because CdTe modules contain Cadmium, which is considered a hazardous material, the disposal cost of these modules was much higher, $6.45 per module.