Photovoltaic panels have been included in the regulatory scope since the transposition of Directive 2012/19/EU. PV modules defined under category 11 and considered as household EEE.
In 2015 (source ADEME), photovoltaic panels accounted for 4% of EEE put on market.
- There are different technologies of photovoltaic panels.
- Crystalline silicon technologies (cSi)
cSi-based PV modules use of crystalline silicon cells make over 85% of the cumulative installed capacity.
- Thin-film technologies
Thin-film PV modules consist of a substrate (often made of glass or plastic), supporting a thin layer of semiconductor materials. Depending on the materials used, there are different types of modules:
- Amorphous and microamorph silicon (a combination of amorphous silicon and microcrystallized silicon), and cadmium telluride (CdTe)
- Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIS / CIGS)
These thin film technologies represent about 15% market share currently, the vast majority being the CdTe, amorphous and microamorph silicon modules.
PV modules composition overview (Cabriss 2015 PV waste collection, selection, and dismantling, materials extraction).
Glass Aluminum Autres matériaux (incluant métaux stratégiques) Other materials
Strategic metals Toxic materials
cSi Monocristalline 74% 10% 16% EVA, tedlar, silicon and glue Silver Lead
Thin-films Amorphous silicon 86% < 1% 14% Glycol, MDI Indium, Germanium -
CdTe 95% < 1% 4% EVA - Cadmium
CIGS 84% 12% 4% EVA Indium, Gallium Cadmium
Within the variety of existing technologies and processes, two main recycling methods can be identified, mechanical treatment and thermal treatment.
Regardless of the selected process, a first step of pre-treatment is done through the removal of cables, aluminium frame and junction box.
- Mechanical route
This method is based on grinding followed by different method of separation like sieving, magnetic, centrifugal, etc.
Mechanical route in currently used for the recycling of the first generations of silicium based PV modules reaching their end of life, which represent over 90% of collected waste. It allows for recycling yields of over 80% of the input weight, mostly composed of glass, ferrous and non-ferrous metals as well as certain semiconductor materials used in PV modules.
The glass resulting from the recycling of PV modules is mixed with standard glass cullet and partly reintroduced in glass fiber or insulation products and partly in glass packaging products. The metals and plastics can be used for the production of new raw materials.
- Wet/thermal route
The wet/thermal treatment is basically a chemical process. Starting from the laminate the challenge is separate the different materials constituting the laminate, e.g. encapsulant, solar cells, etc … this makes possible to apply selective extraction process to recover valuable materials such as Si, Cu, In, Al, Ag….
Proposed improvement plan
A European eco-label for photovoltaic panels is under consideration.
Etude BIO Intelligence Service pour l’ADEME 2010. Etude du potentiel de recyclage de certains métaux rares : partie 2.
Okopol (2007). Study on the development of a take back and recovery system for photovoltaic products.
Cabriss 2015 PV waste collection, selection, and dismantling, materials extraction.