Can DualSun panels be recycled?
Yes! Thanks to PV CYCLE, DualSun panels are 80% recyclable.
DualSun panels have a lifespan of 25-30 years. What happens to the panels once they have reached the end of their lifetime, or how do we manage broken or defective panels? DualSun panels are recycled via PV CYCLE, the first worldwide take-back and recycling scheme for photovoltaic module waste. The cost of recycling is included in the initial price of the panel as an “eco-participation” cost.
Solar power deployment took off 10 years ago, thus major recycling needs will be necessary in 10-15 years from now. However, the industry is already prepared - both technically and financially.
In 2012, photovoltaic waste management became subject to the the scope of the European Directive for Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). Since 2014, each European country has been required to implement national law based on this directive.
The directive (and subsequent national laws) requires that the original Producers (national manufacturer, rebrander or importer) of the panels ensure and finance the proper take-back and recycling of the panels. End consumers must not face any additional cost at the moment of disposal.
How does PV CYCLE function?
PV CYCLE manages the take-back and recycling of photovoltaic panels. PV CYCLE was created in 2007 by the European photovoltaic industry and to this date, has recycled thousands of tons of photovoltaic waste by applying advanced recycling techniques to obtain an excellent recycling rate in the most economical and sustainable manner.
PV CYCLE has established a large network of collection points all over Europe, with some 50 in France alone. Photovoltaic waste is then transported from these collection points to 10 recycling partners in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Belgium.
In order to finance PV CYCLE operations (collection, logistics, tracking and recycling), an “eco-contribution” is applied to each newly sold photovoltaic module.
As a PV CYCLE member, DualSun invoices an eco-contribution of 1,2€ per panel sold. Every quarter, we declare the number of panels sold in France to PV CYCLE and pay the associated eco-contribution. The amount of the eco-contribution is based on the actual cost of treating PV module waste, and all decisions concerning the eco-contribution are made by the Board of Directors and Tariff Committee – both representing the different actors of the PV industry.
The eco-contribution of an example DualSun invoice
To date, DualSun has sent very few modules to recycling, only a small number of panels which were broken in transport.
Technical details of the recycling process
PV CYCLE distinguishes between recycling processes for silicon based PV modules (DualSun) and for non-silicon based PV technologies.
Due to similar morphology, structure and composition of silicon based PV modules and other flat glass products such as car windows, PV CYCLE can benefit from important synergies with the flat glass recycling industry.
The recycling process of silicon based PV involves three main steps:
1. Preparation phase: the aluminum frames and junction boxes are removed manually.
2. Shredding and processing: The prepared PV module is fed into a shredder and then enters the glass recycling line which includes manual pre-sorting, crushing of the laminates, separation and extraction of materials.
3. Separation and further micro-recycling of the single materials: The main output materials are metals (aluminum, copper), glass, silicon flakes, and plastics, with an average recycling quota of approximately 80% to 85% by weight. The recycled glass is mixed with standard glass cullet, and is used for both glass fiber/ insulation products and glass packaging products. The metals and plastics are used for the production of new raw materials.
Recycling not only allows resources to be saved but also to reduce CO2 emissions. A study from the German Fraunhofer Institute shows that the recycling of 1 tonne of PV modules (Si-based) can save 1200kg of CO² emissions.
What about the heat exchanger of a DualSun panel? Is it recyclable?
The heat exchanger of a DualSun Wave panel is composed of two stainless steel flat sheets. Stainless steel is a “green material by excellence” that can be recycled without any degradation. Stainless steel is actively recycled on a large scale around the world and is economically viable and technically proven. Today, 25% of stainless steel production is recycled material. DualSun’s “product morphology does not present a specific issue for the recycling process.” – Pia Alina Lange, PV CYCLE.
The heat exchanger of the DualSun Spring panel is made of polypropylene (PP). This material is recycled by different organisations for various industries (Paprec, Veolia, Valorplast...). The PP heat exchangers are ground into flakes, then washed, rinsed, wrung, dried, and sifted into a reusable granulated material.