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Pioneering new circular solutions for solar panels

Agriculture & Energy

Researchers are finding ways to recover valuable commodities from retired solar cells

Spotted: Solar PV accounted for three-quarters of new renewable energy additions in 2023, according to the IEA. However, with more than 100,000 tonnes of solar panels expected to be scrapped in Australia alone by 2035 and a general lack of feasible recycling solutions, keeping green energy green poses a significant challenge.

To this end, an international team of researchers led by RMIT University are collaborating to find solutions on how to recycle worn solar panels – recovering important metals such as copper, lead, silver, and tin – before using and commercialising the recovered resources.

A newly opened, multi-purpose facility at engineering company EDIPAE’s site in Tomelloso, Spain, now provides the team with a hub for research, teaching, and public exhibition of new technology. Meanwhile, a patent application for the researchers’ method of “separating fluoropolymer layers from a substrate” is pending with IP Australia. 

According to RMIT’s Dr Ylias Sabri “there’s historically been little interest in recovering […] strategic metals from discarded panels as it’s difficult and expensive to do, so they end up in landfill.” The hope is that new technologies and systems being developed by the team could help to change that. 

Written By: Duncan Whitmore



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