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International Team of Researchers Tackle Solar Panel Recycling

RMIT University is spearheading a worldwide network of researchers dedicated to advancing the reuse and recycling of solar panels, which can include precious materials like lead and tin.

More than 100,000 tons of solar panels are expected to enter the waste stream in Australia alone by 2035, along with billions of dollars in materials that can be recaptured.

A work and exhibition space was opened at the engineering company EDIPAE’s site in Tomelloso, Spain, on June 13th, 2024.

This space serves as a local hub for industry and researchers to collaborate on the most efficient ways to recover, use, and market precious materials from recycled solar panels.

EDIPAE Director Carlos Miralles Sánchez stated that his company was honored to support a circular economy model for solar panels as the network's industry partner in Spain.

We now have a physical space to work with researchers on a cheaper and easier recycling solution through this Australian technology. We also have a workshop with tools for creating prototypes so ideas can be developed as well as exhibited to the public.

Carlos Miralles Sánchez, Director, EDIPAE

The facility features a public display of several types of modules and the byproducts produced after recycling them.

EDIPAE will also collaborate with local organizations to offer employment and academic opportunities.

The University of Castilla-La Mancha will utilize the space to provide training programs and conduct research through its Renewable Energy Research Institute.

Dr. Ylias Sabri of RMIT noted that while solar panels assist in cutting carbon emissions, there is a lack of infrastructure to shred and adequately recycle them after they reach the end of their useful life.

Solar panels have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years and contain valuable metals, including silver and copper. But, there has historically been little interest in recovering these strategic metals from discarded panels as it is difficult and expensive to do, so they end up in landfill.

Dr. Ylias Sabri, Research Fellow, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

The method Sabri and his colleagues developed is expected to increase the economic feasibility of solar panel recycling.

Sabri added, “RMIT is in a prime position to support this large and growing market and consequent job creation.”

The Australian Government's Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water (ICIRN000011) provides funding for the Integrating End of Life Solar Panel Waste in Circular Economy network.

Research teams from several disciplines collaborate with industry partners, such as HP Energy, EDIPAE, My Second Life Solar, King’s College London, University of Castilla-La Mancha, CSIR-National Physical Laboratory, and New York University.

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