Photovoltaic (PV) technology is a booming industry and one that is of increasing importance on both environmental and energy saving fronts. Its method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into electricity is an environmentally sound renewable energy source; however the industry of recycling photovoltaic parts at the end of their usage is one that is relatively new. PV Cycle, a non-profit association based in Brussels, Belgium has started to support recycling of these photovoltaic parts.
The photovoltaic industry is committed to creating sustainable energy solutions and the recycling of end-of-life parts is part of that scheme. Through PV Cycle the photovoltaic industry will install waste management and recycling policies for old PV modules. PV Cycle is working towards this goal in a number of ways today.
Jan Clyncke, the Managing Director of PV Cycle, founded in 2007 says, “I joined PV Cycle in 2008 and since then we really started to set up recycling systems in Europe. The objective is to set up a European recycling program for end-of-life photovoltaic models.”
Clyncke notes that in the waste and recycling business volume is needed for success. “The challenge with these PV models is that there is no waste. Sometimes it takes 30 or 40 years to accumulate waste. So as of right now, a straight forward commercially viable recycling facility does not exist. What does exist is a lot of initiatives to start recycling PV modules,” he says.
PV modules contain materials that can be recycled and reused. These include glass, aluminium and silicone. “Materials can be recycled for use in a variety of industries. Glass, aluminium, copper and silicone are all useful,” says Clyncke. The materials can be recycled into new PV modules or alternatively other new products.
Recycling end-of-life PV modules is beneficial for the environment in a number of ways. It reduces the output of waste and the amount of energy needed to provide raw materials.
PV Cycle’s mission is to create an industry-wide recycling program for end-of-life modules—firstly in Europe and then further afield.
Clyncke says, “We want to open collection boxes and continue to focus on the countries where we are not yet active and where the full capacity of PV is very high. For instance, in Germany, Spain, and Italy.”
There are 11 European countries that are currently active in PV recycling and the organization will expand to two more countries—Switzerland and Czech Republic—in the near future. “It’s a continuous project and we are continuously improving the system,” adds Clyncke.
Its main projects are to set up the PV Cycle system and collection points. One project the organization is working on is in logistics—involving setting up six collection points for small quantities of end-of-life waste as well as setting up PV modules that come from solar parks.
PV Cycle’s voluntary take back and recycling program is divided into two phases.
Phase one is preparatory work. This work is to “solicit industry participation, design the framework and set the objectives of the program.” Phase two is the “implementation of the program throughout Europe, together with annual auditing to monitor and communicate progress towards achievement of the PV industry’s goals,” says the company’s website.
As far as policy goes, the organization is working on environmental agreements which it will propose to the Environmental Commission.
Although PV Cycle is primarily focused on the European market and expanding within it today, there are goals to expanding worldwide once a concrete system has been put in place. “We represent 90 per cent of what has been sold in Europe,” says Clyncke. “We want to make sure that the system works properly in Europe first then it is easy to copy and paste it.”
Over a few short years the organization has already executed its vision to promote PV recycling in Europe. It is committed to the success of the program and in pursuing its goals to install waste management and recycling policies it continues to support the environment and the PV industry.