Australian Renewable Energy Agency funds Swinburne solar panel recycling project

Swinburne has received $404,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for a project to enable the recovery of silicon and silver from end-of-life solar panels.

The project, with a total value of almost $1million, will be led by Professor Akbar Rhamdhani. Professor Rhamdhani will be working on the project with Swinburne’s Professor Geoff Brooks, and CSIRO with additional funding from two metal recycling industry partners – Upala and Envirostream.

“Currently, more than 95 per cent of the current solar cell market is based on crystalline silicon and more than two million Australian homes have installed rooftop solar panels,” says Professor Rhamdhani.

“Most of these panels have a lifespan of 25 years, and experts predict the amount of waste from solar panels could reach 78 million tonnes by 2050.”

Professor Akbar Rhamdani in research lab with postgrad students Bintang Nuraeni (left) and Aulia Qisthi Mairizal (right)

Professor Akmar Rhamdhani (centre) with PhD candidates Bintang Nuraeni and Aulia Qisthi Mairizal.

The newly funded project will develop a robust technology that can rapidly recycle a large volume of end-of-life solar panels – known as silicon photo-voltaic panels.

This technology will also enable the recovery of high-value silver used in the panels, making the overall recycling process economically attractive.

It will be designed to allow the processing of mixed end-of-life solar panels with other silicon sources, such as the waste silicon from manufacturing the panels, to produce solar grade silicon.

The process will also result in the removal of impurities, such as boron and phosphorus, at much faster rates and higher amounts compared to the regular slag refining or current silicon production process.

“While the waste silicon from manufacturing solar panels generates approximately 160,000 tonnes per year, the technology being developed will process these resources hence contribute to the reduction of these end-of-life solar panels and silicon waste,” Professor Rhamdhani says.

The proposed process will promote recycling of solar panels and the creation of innovative recycling industries in Australia.

This project received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Research and Development Program – Addressing end-of-life issues and lowering the cost of solar PV.

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