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Sustainable Development

RECYCLING OF PV PANELS

The WEEE Directive

The sustainability of photovoltaic-produced electricity extends until the end of the power plant lifecycle – and beyond. This is because end-of-life PV systems can be collected and effectively recycled. 

Currently available techniques allow the recycling of about 85% of a PV panel weight. Recycling is not only beneficial for the environment; it also reduces the energy needed to produce all PV-constituting materials, thereby decreasing overall manufacturing costs.

The EU has recognised the importance of recycling end-of-life PV modules. This is why the latest recast of the Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE, 2012/19/EU) – from July 2012 – has included PV modules within its scope.

This Directive was conceived to deal with the disposal of consumer goods (such as washing machines and televisions). PV panels are the only power-producing source included in the scope of the legislation. This makes PV-generated electricity a source of energy for which there is absolute legal certainty on the modalities of collection and recycling of a power plant. When purchasing a PV module in the European Union, any final customer can be reassured about the panel’s end-of-life processing.

RAW MATERIALS

Planning for the future

The photovoltaic (PV) industry relies on several mineral materials in order to produce clean and affordable electricity. PV companies are therefore much aware of the availability and sustainable use of such input materials. Some of these raw materials come as by-products of other processing, making photovoltaics a key contributor to resource efficiency.

The first implementation plan (2010) of the Solar Europe Industry Initiative has identified the issue of materials’ development and sustainability as one of the key R&D themes to achieve further sustainability gains and ever-increasing efficiencies for PV. The industry applies the best available techniques to recycle production scrap and to increase the rate of recycling for end-of-life modules. Photovoltaic manufacturers actively invest in optimising their industrial processes and product design, so as to contribute to limiting materials use and production losses.

In the Raw Materials Initiative (COM(2008) 699) the European Commission identified an integrated strategy for mineral raw materials, including 14 critical ones. This strategy rests on three pillars:
  • Ensuring the access to raw materials from international markets at undistorted conditions

  • Fostering sustainable supply of raw materials from European sources

  • Boosting resource efficiency and promoting recycling to reduce the EU’s consumption of primary raw materials

Access to affordable mineral raw materials is essential for the sustainability of every sector. The photovoltaic industry is committed to the efficient and sustainable use of the materials it needs in the manufacturing process for this vital technology.

Read more: www.iea-pvps-task12.org

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