IIT Mandi discovers ways to reduce environmental impact of solar cell waste


Mandi: To minimize the environmental impact of solar cell waste and its “reuse value” the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi has analysed the benefits of recycling end-of-life solar cells by comparing the various materials and processes used in their recycling and manufacture.

The research led by Dr. Satvasheel Ramesh Powar, Associate Professor, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, IIT Mandi, the research group has recommended policy and industrial solutions for the effective recycling of solar cell components and materials.

The analysis has been published in the journal, Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, in a paper co-authored by Dr. Satvasheel Ramesh Powar, and Dr. Atul Dhar, Associate Professors, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, along with their research scholar Ms. Shweta Singh.

The paper discusses the life cycle assessment of crystalline silicon (c-Si) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) PV modules and presents a comprehensive analysis of their environmental impact and the benefits of recycling.

Explaining the need for such an analysis, Dr. Satvasheel Ramesh Powar, said, “India’s solar energy infrastructure is rapidly expanding, with a capacity of ~ 62 GW as of 30th Nov 2022. Given that solar cell modules have a lifetime of about 30 years, the country will produce 4.4 to 7.5 million tonnes of solar cell waste by 2050.

“Solar panel trash may become the most prevalent kind of rubbish in landfills as early as 2030. Addressing this environmental challenge hinges” he said.

The recycling of solar cell modules enables the recovery of valuable resources such as cadmium, tellurium, indium, gallium, and germanium. These resources have limited reserves and are in high demand within the industry.

The IIT Mandi study compares the process of mining and refining glass, metals, and semiconductor materials from c-Si and CdTe PV modules to traditional mining and production methods.

The insights derived from the study emphasize the need for governments and industry stakeholders to take proactive measures in implementing green certifications and providing incentives. These actions are crucial to foster the recycling and mineral recovery of the PV industry.

The researchers also propose optimizing the design of PV modules to minimize waste during disposal by incorporating sustainable materials and adhering to the “design to dismantle” principle. Additionally, innovative business models for managing and financing PV waste disposal, along with investments in reusing substandard modules, are recommended.

Speaking about their research, Dr. Atul Dhar said, “The findings from our study underscore the urgent need for a sustainable solution to address the growing volume of end-of-life solar PV modules. Promoting effective recycling practices and implementing appropriate policies can foster a more environmentally friendly and sustainable PV industry.”

Building upon their published work, the IIT Mandi researchers have developed a comprehensive recycling methodology encompassing Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Repair, Refurbish, Redesign, Remanufacture, and Recycle methods.

This holistic approach aims to minimize waste and energy consumption during the end-of-life processing of solar PV modules.


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