On the 10th of June 2021, over 70 attendees participated in the CIRCUSOL EU Green Week 2021 Partner Event, organised by ZABALA, about reducing pollution and waste in circular solar supply chains through collaboration.
As the first speaker, Anse Smeets from VITO set the scene with a presentation on the Environmental benefits and pollution reduction potential of circularity for PV. From the environmental point of view, Life Cycle Analysis shows that it is advantageous to (re)use and repair PV panels until they have reached their technical End-of-Life, even though it is known that new panels are becoming increasingly efficient. In conclusion, circularity in the solar power industry indeed proves worthwhile.
The Circularity of Solar PV was presented by Tadas Radavičius from SoliTek who remarked that several options were available for manufacturers to make PV modules more environmentally friendly, and to phase out some of the hazardous substances, like lead and fluorine. What’s more, digitization offers opportunities to organize the PV supply chain in a more circular manner, but this requires more intensive collaboration and knowledge sharing within the value chain.
Repairing and reusing panels is, from a technical point of view, feasible under certain circumstances. However, a robust legislative framework and technical standards for the reuse of PV panels have been lacking up to now. As Arvid van der Heide from IMEC highlighted in his presentation Waste reduction: practical issues for re-use of PV modules, the CIRCUSOL project is working on this.
Next to reuse and repair, recycling should be optimized. In his speech, The transition from a waste society to a circular society, Wolfram Palitzsch from Luxchemtech highlighted that there was a potential to recover more value with more advanced recycling technologies. Chemical recycling will become more and more important in the future. There is a need to evolve towards a circular mindset: inevitably, solutions will be more complex, more adaptive and more collaborative.
Lastly, Economic perspectives on the reuse of PV modules by Lisa Wendzich from SunCrafter showed that off-grid low-voltage applications (in low-income countries, for example) could be a valuable way to give PV panels a second life. However, this necessitates cost-efficient quality testing and rehabilitation, as well as procedures which are complying with standards and a regulatory framework.
The event was moderated by Naoko Tojo from Lund University and the panel discussion was led by Tom Rommens from VITO.
There is a need for more cooperation in circular supply chains to reduce or avoid future pollution and waste. Circularity is more than recycling. Repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing are other circular options that should be considered and further explored.
Product and material cycles are a shared responsibility in which manufacturers, users, waste companies and several other stakeholders are involved. CIRCUSOL explores the options to make business models in the solar power industry more circular and sustainable.