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There’s plenty of bounce in the step of solar panel recyclers

The worldwide solar panel recycling management industry will be worth EUR 325 million by 2024 which represents a significant market growth of 35%.

Stringent recycling laws, coupled with a growing volume of decommissioned photovoltaic (PV) panels, will propel industry growth, according to market analysts at Global Market Insights.

China remains the nation with the most solar panels installed (32% of the global total) and now boasts a capacity of 176 GW. The country’s recycling sector for PV modules is expected to witness 12% growth in the next four years.

Graph provided by the International Renewable Energy Agency

The second biggest market is the US (more than 60 GW), where the recycling market is valued at more than EUR 4.5 million, although the total for the EU as a whole is nearly twice that of the US at around 115 GW.

Europe saw 36% growth in solar panel capacity last year while the market in the UK alone is predicted to grow more than 35% by 2024.

Meanwhile, panel recycling in the United Arab Emirates is projected to grow around 50% between 2016 and 2024.

The International Renewable Energy Agency believes the country will generate up to 350 000 tonnes of waste PV modules by 2050.

Big news for PV silicon

Material scientists at Deakin University in Australia claim to have found a way to recover silicon from discarded solar panels that will benefit battery manufacturing. ‘We can extract silicon from PV cells and convert it into nano-silicon for the subsequent application in battery technology as a high-energy anode,’ explains Dr Mokhlesur Rahman.

Rahman and research partner Professor Ying Chen claim that nano-silicon has the ability to store about 10 times the energy of regular silicon within the same space. This means that better performing batteries may soon be a reality.

While only a small amount of silicon is used to create an individual solar panel, the scientists cite statistics indicating the world population may generate five million tonnes of solar panel waste by 2050. If so, the silicon waste stream would be anything but insignificant.

Rahman points out that preliminary investigations indicate the recycled silicon ‘functions at least in the same way as commercial silicon’. As such, this breakthrough could provide battery makers with a new source of the material, which currently costs around AU$ 44 000 (EUR 27 000) per kg.

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