In the near future it will be possible to produce solar modules that can be completely recycled. TNO collaborated with three innovative Dutch companies to develop a solar panel that will last about thirty years, after which its components can be reused. This resolves a major disadvantage of current solar panels, which end up in the shredder at the end of their lifespan.
In the EU alone, some 4,000 tonnes of solar panels are destroyed every year using environmentally detrimental methods. In a recent report, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimated that at least 60 million tonnes of solar panels will have reached the end of their lifespan by 2050. However, if the modules developed by TNO are produced on a large scale, the amount of waste could shrink considerably.
By the end of this year, TNO will complete a two-year project entitled Design for Recycling & Reuse (DEREC). One of the partners is DSM, who have developed a unique material to affix the components in the solar module. The company Mat-tech, headquartered in Son, developed materials to replace the traditional soldering components in the modules, avoiding highly toxic lead alloys. The young, The Hague-based company Exasun is one of two companies in the world that can manufacture glass-glass solar panels with so-called back-contact cells, a technology developed by TNO.
The new solar panel contains no toxic solder and uses a unique new adhesive that will make it possible to recycle the glass and cells. Mounting glass on both sides of the panels also means that fluorinated Tedlar, a material that is difficult to recycle, is no longer required to protect the back of the module. This has a double benefit: no more toxic substances are required and the panel is simple to dismantle at the end of its service life. All components and materials can be reused in new panels or other products. They also have a much higher yield and a lifespan that is five years longer than traditional panels.
TNO has extensively tested the materials and the manufacturing procedure in its own climate chambers, and a limited series of solar panels has now been successfully tested at the laboratory scale. Practical trials are due to be carried out in the second half of this year. Among others, a number of solar panels will be installed on the roof of the ABN AMRO building in the Zuidas district. This trial is intended to demonstrate the performance of the panels under real life conditions.
The solar panels are ‘Made in Holland’ and ready for the increasingly strict national and European regulations for circularity. The new product will be provided with a ‘passport’ that states exactly which materials have been used and where they come from. The panels will hence fully comply with the CE label, giving the manufacturer an edge over the competition (in any case as long as the mass-produced products from Asia do not comply with the new stricter rules). In addition, producing closer to home means this product has an environmental advantage because of the much shorter transport distances.