Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have conducted the first global assessment into the most promising approaches to end-of-life management for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules.
PV modules have a 30-year lifespan. There is currently no plan for how to manage this at end of their lifespan. The volume of modules no longer needed could total 80 million metric tons by 2050. In addition to quantity, the nature of the waste also poses challenges. PV modules are made of valuable, precious, critical, and toxic materials. There is currently no standard for how to recycle the valuable ones and mitigate the toxic ones.
Numerous articles review individual options for PV recycling but, until now, no one has done a global assessment of all PV recycling efforts to identify the most promising approaches.
“PV is a major part of the energy transition,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at NREL who specializes in sustainability science. “We must be good stewards of these materials and develop a circular economy for PV modules.”
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