Image: REUTERS / Jean-Paul Pelissier

The French group Veolia has inaugurated a factory in Rousset which will process 1,300 tonnes of solar panels per year. Perhaps the world’s first photovoltaic recycling plant.

In France, solar energy is coming full circle. The first photovoltaic treatment and recycling plant was inaugurated in Rousset, at the mouth of the Rhône. The project was signed by the PV Cycle France association and Veolia, a utility company. Together, they created what is to date the largest system ever built, dedicated exclusively to end-of-life solar panels. Something very necessary given that the first generation of photovoltaic modules has reached a storage volume which justifies a recycling facility.

Image: REUTERS / Jean-Paul Pelissier

A standard crystalline silicon module consists of 65-75% glass, 10-15% aluminum frame, 10% plastic, and only 3-5% silicon. Each unit can be almost entirely recycled: currently the best technologies on the market allow a panel to be recovered at 98% of its weight. However, until yesterday, in France (as in the vast majority of countries) old or damaged modules ended up in glass recycling facilities, because there was still not enough “solar waste” to justify a photovoltaic recycling plant.

Now, explains Veolia, the time has come to go further. The new center will recycle up to 1,300 tonnes of solar panels in 2018, which is all those that in theory should be dismantled this year in France, with the aim of reaching a capacity of 4,000 tonnes by 2022. “It is – explained to journalists Gilles Carsuzaa, responsible for electronic recycling at Veolia – the first factory dedicated to the recycling of solar panels in Europe, perhaps in the world.. “

Image: REUTERS / Jean-Paul Pelissier

For the moment, the installation will only process standard silicon modules, excluding thin film modules or organic photovoltaic modules. The plant’s robotic line will dismantle the cells and panels for recovering glass, silicon, plastic, copper and silver, which will then be crushed into granules to be reused again by the solar sector as raw material; Veolia has not yet solved all the problems: currently, the system only recovers 95% of the weight of the panels and extracts the silicon with two categories of purity, the best value of which is currently 70%. “The goal is to achieve 100% purity. We are working on a technology to achieve our goals, but we are still in the field of R&D. “

You may be interested in: How to make a powerful solar panel at low cost by reusing broken solar cells from other panels.


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