Analysis of material recovery from photovoltaic panels
The life cycle impacts of photovoltaic (PV) plants have been extensively explored in several studies in the scientific literature. However, the end-of-life phase has been generally excluded or neglected from these analyses, mainly because of the low amount of panels that have so far reached disposal and the lack of data about their end of life. It is expected that the disposal of PV plants will become a relevant environmental issue in the coming decades. An Italian company is currently developing the project FRELP (Full Recovery End-of-Life Photovoltaic) as part of the European ‘LIFE’... programme. The FRELP project focuses on the development of an innovative process based on a series of mechanical and chemical treatments to recycle/recover waste crystalline-silicon (c-Si) photovoltaic (PV) panels. The project foresees the development of a pilot-scale plant which could subsequently be developed on an industrial scale. Thanks to the FRELP process, several materials can be sorted from 1 tonne of PV waste including: glass (98 %), aluminium (99 %), silicon metal (95 %), copper (99 %) and silver (94 %) for a total quantity of 908 kg. Some of these materials (e.g. silicon metal, antimony, chromium and fluorspar) are considered as critical raw materials (CRM) for the European economy, having high economic importance and a high risk to their supply. The present report describes the application of life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to analyse the innovative process developed within the FRELP project. The system boundaries of the LCA were set to begin at the collection of the PV waste and end with the production of recyclable materials. For example, results show that the process generates 370 kg CO2 eq, 2.34E-05 kg CFC-11 eq for ozone depletion impact category and 4.32E-03 kg Sb eq for abiotic resource depletion – mineral per tonne of PV waste treated.