Australia’s first large-scale solar panel recycling operation amps up assortment of valuable “waste” – pv journal Australia


For Clive Fleming, approval to develop his company, Reclaim PV Recycling, is to build Australia’s first major solar panel recycling facility and to lease an industrial property in Lonsdale, just outside Adelaide in South Australia, a major milestone after years of research and long-term logistic modeling in his efforts to prevent the dumping of defective or old modules,.

With the location secured, Fleming is today launching a nationwide collection network for its company by sending industry operators – solar suppliers, installers and maintenance companies – across Australia to designate their business locations as recycling depots.

The participants need about 48 square meters of free space and are ready to store up to three pallets of solar panels that are no longer useful. Reclaim PV will organize the pick-up of the panels around the three-pallet brand and initially transport them to Adelaide. Fleming is currently securing panel processing facilities in other states.

“Having a network of drop-off points significantly reduces the cost of transporting the panels to our warehouses and recycling facilities compared to picking up 10 panels here and 15 panels there,” explains Fleming pv magazine Australia.

In 2015, Sustainability Victoria estimated that Australia’s installed solar infrastructure has an expected lifespan of 15 to 35 years, so the waves of old modules are unlikely to hit the dirt for another decade or so.

Unbelief sows conviction

Fleming and former business partner David Galloway recognized the enormous importance of the upcoming recycling task when, as solar service providers, they were instructed to dispose of 600 decommissioned modules from one location in 2011 and started Reclaim PV.

After grant-funded research into the best ways to separate the solar sandwich from materials bonded together by adhesives such as ethyl vinyl acetate, the company developed a recycling process using pyrolysis – the gradual application of heat in a furnace to peel or melt the material various components of the panels, which are then reclaimed, sorted and sold to material companies for reuse.

In recent years, Reclaim PV, in collaboration with major manufacturers such as Q Cells, Suntech, Canadian Solar, Yingli and Sunpower, has processed a test trickle of around 10,000 modules per year that pay for the recycling of their failed solar modules under warranty or transport damage; and collecting trash from shutdown or freak events like the hailstorms that struck parts of southeast Queensland in November 2020.

During hailstorms in Queensland in November, hundreds of claims were reported for hail-damaged solar panels up to 14 cm in diameter, according to the insurance division of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland.

Image: RACQ

The proportion of materials that can potentially be extracted from solar panels is typically glass (75%), aluminum (8%), silicon (5%), copper (1%) and lesser amounts of silver, tin, lead and other components .

In a study carried out jointly by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2016, it was estimated that 78 million tonnes of raw materials with a total value of 15 billion US dollars could be extracted from solar modules worldwide by 2050.

The alternative is that solar debris left in landfills can leach materials such as tin, lead and cadmium into the groundwater, creating health and environmental problems regardless of the unimaginable volume of missed opportunities and soil eaters.

Manufacturers with a conscience

Tim Feng, Managing Director of Yingli Solar Australia, explains pv magazine Australia Since entering the Australian market in 2012, the company has installed around 100 MW of commercial rooftop and large-scale solar systems. At that point, Fleming came to speak to them about stewardship and how the two companies worked together to ensure the integrity of the industry.

“As an agent for clean energy,” says Feng, “Yingli focuses on making the least impact on the environment during production, and once the product is sold we focus on minimizing the impact on that part as well.”

In mid-2020, some Australian states began to take action because there was no federal policy such as levying a levy on solar modules, inverters and batteries imported into Australia to finance the recycling of solar waste at the end of life. Victoria has put in place a long-planned ban on the landfilling of all electronic waste, including solar panels. and NSW last August Allocated a two-tier grant program of US $ 10 million to keep legacy assets out of the soil we live on.

Known as the NSW Circular Solar Grant ProgramThe program was initiated in response to data that NSW alone will produce between 3,000 and 10,000 tons of discarded solar panels by 2025, a volume expected to grow to 40,000 to 71,000 tons by 2035.

An industry-wide approach is required

Fleming sees opportunities in abundance that could make its business plan independent of government funds and fulfill its long-standing vision of Reclaim PV to become the catalyst for a national system that enables end-to-end recovery and recycling of solar panels in Australia enables.

He is currently securing full environmental licenses in Lonsdale for recycling with a starting rate of 70,000 per year. This happens to be equal to the number of partially processed panels he currently has in stock and is just waiting for the company to go full throttle.

Confident of its future expansion, Fleming continues to invite those involved in decommissioning solar panels or companies that are replacing panels under warranty to contact Reclaim PV to collect their waste panels. and at the same time challenge the industry to live the dream and Become part of the Reclaim PV network from drop-off points for discarded solar panels.

The more locations in Australia nominate themselves as pick-up points for panels, the more convenient the network becomes for “uninstallers” and electricians who are asked to disconnect and dispose of damaged or faulty panels.

The more industry is involved in a distributed depot system, the less it costs Reclaim PV to transport the modules, and the more competitive it can be to pay fees that are levied by local authorities to accept solar modules as landfill or as electronic waste to process.

“I appeal to these companies that handle solar panels and have a little more space,” he says. “If we can do this as an industry, it will reduce transportation costs and our recycling service, and we can all be comfortable.”

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