End of life of PV modules

Waste from end-of-life solar panels presents opportunities to recover valuable materials and create jobs through recycling. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, by 2030, the cumulative value of recoverable raw materials from end-of-life panels globally will be about $450 million, which is equivalent to the cost of raw materials currently needed to produce about 60 million new panels.

Lifecycle of photovoltaic modules

A PV module is the electronic product with the longest lifetime guarantee, unlike the products with “planned obsolescence” (laptops, mobile phones, TVs etc.). Currently Futurasun offers a 15-year guarantee against defects and a 25- and 30-year power guarantee of output (depending on technology). But these values, deriving from accelerated stress tests, are extremely conservative. There are photovoltaic plants, even installed in EU research centres, such as the JRC in Ispra, that have been in operation for 40 years. So, considering that the PV technology has improved enormously in the meantime, there is no reason to consider that the real lifetime of a PV module is less than 40 years. Ensuring a long product life is as essential as recycling the product.

FuturaSun is specialized in crystalline-silicon solar technology, mostly n-type, which represents most of the solar panel market share. This type of panel is constructed with an aluminium frame, glass, copper wire, polymer layers and a backsheet, silicon solar cells, and a plastic junction box. Once separated, these materials are more than 90% recyclable and can be used to make new modules or other products.

Just as an example, for the production of the Silk® Nova Duetto PV module (144 half-cut cells), FuturaSun uses components according to the following composition:

Composition of photovoltaic modules

FuturaSun is specialized in crystalline-silicon solar technology, mostly n-type, which represents most of the solar panel market share. This type of panel is constructed with an aluminium frame, glass, copper wire, polymer layers and a backsheet, silicon solar cells, and a plastic junction box. Once separated, these materials are more than 90% recyclable and can be used to make new modules or other products.

Just as an example, for the production of the Silk® Nova Duetto PV module (144 half-cut cells), FuturaSun uses components according to the following composition:

So, 80% of the module is made of glass and 9% of the module is aluminium which are 100% recyclable materials. The other materials can be recycled too, arriving at over 90% of recyclability of the module according to the PV Cycle (the institution in charge for recycling of PV modules in Italy) and ENEA (Fiandra, Sannino “Analysis report on photovoltaic waste as a source of valuable material” RT/2023/5/ENEA).

Recycling process

There are different methods to recycle solar panels, which can include some or all of the following three steps:

  1. Removal of the frame and junction box;
  2. Separation of the glass and the silicon wafer through thermal, mechanical or chemical processes; and/or
  3. Separation and purification of the silicon cells and specialty metals (e.g., silver, tin, lead, copper) through chemical and electrical techniques.

Recycling is already established in the glass, metals, and electronics industries, which can accommodate solar panels and other solar power system components. These processes typically involve crushing, shredding, and milling, usually after removal of the frame and junction box. The industry is new and still growing, with researchers examining how to commercialize recycling to economically recover most of the components of a solar panel.

PV Cycle

Our company has been in module recycling schemes for more than 10 years. FuturaSun is the leading Italian contributor to PV Cycle Italy (30% of turnover) and a member of PV Cycle Germany – collective systems which handle waste from electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and accumulators, packaging and industrial waste.

PV Cycle was founded in 2007 from a voluntary initiative of some leading European PV module manufacturers, while today the consortium offers its services to companies and waste holders worldwide, offering regulatory compliance and waste management services for producers under the WEEE and Batteries & Accumulators Regulations.

WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU (electronic waste)

(modified by Directive 2018/849)

According to the European legislation, the first importer in the country of installation is responsible for the appropriate WEEE disposal, following the national procedures that each Member State issued in compliance with the Directive.
FuturaSun provides its customers the quotation, order confirmation and invoice, including clarifications in reference to the limits and applications of the WEEE Directive. The Directive provides the collection schemes in which consumers return their electrical and electronic equipment waste free of charge, in order to increase their recycling and/or reuse.

Repairing of PV modules

Before recycling it is important to check whether it is possible to repair a product. Futurasun, in fact, was a major contributor to the drafting of the CEI protocol for repairing PV modules to avoid waste production (CEI Doc. CT 82. Technical Report. Regeneration of photovoltaic modules. Rev. 5/3/21).

Sustainability department

We have a department entirely dedicated to corporate sustainability. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at sustainability@futurasun.it