Veolia, the French water and waste group, has opened what it claims is Europe’s first solar recycling plant. The plant, which is located in Rousset, southern France, has a contract with PV Cycle France to recycle 1,300 tonnes of solar panels this year and 4,000 tonnes of solar panels by 2022.
At the plant, robots dissemble solar panels to recuperate glass, silicon, plastics, copper and silver, which are crushed into granulates that can be used to make new solar panels.
Veolia has a goal to recycle all decommissioned photovoltaic (PV) panels in France and elsewhere, especially since it expects tonnage of decommissioned PV panels to grow drastically by 2050 worldwide.
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The first ageing photovoltaic (PV) panels - which have lifespans of around 25 years - are just now beginning to come off rooftops and solar plants in volumes sufficiently steady and significant to warrant building a dedicated plant, Veolia said.
Up until now, ageing or broken solar panels have typically been recycled in general-purpose glass recycling facilities, where only their glass and aluminum frames are recovered and their specialty glass is mixed in with other glass. The remainder is often burned in cement ovens.
In a 2016 study on solar panel recycling, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that in the long term, building dedicated PV panel recycling plants makes sense. It estimates that recovered materials could be worth $450 million by 2030 and exceed $15 billion by 2050.