Lommel, for two days the innovative epicentre of (solar) glass
26 September 2022
Lommel – The SDG flag is flying in Lommel. While the City was looking for Sustainable Heroes, on 20 and 21 September a seriously sustainable European delegation from Photorama descended on Lommel. The Photorama project is a consortium of 13 interdisciplinary partners that, with the support of the European Horizon 2020 programme, aims to improve solar panel recycling and resource recovery.
Solar panel recycling is relatively new and fairly young, mainly due to the unusually long life (25-30 years) of PV (Photovoltaic, Eng.) panels. The volume of PV waste is currently still considered too low and is not yet commercially attractive enough to really warrant investing in an organised business at this stage. Nevertheless, that waste mountain is growing year by year and we expect to face a huge challenge in 20 years' time. Photorama, with glass recycler Maltha/Renewi as a partner, aims to turn this challenge on its head.
From downcycling to upcycling
Today, solar panels are processed at the end of their life through existing regular lines, i.e. downcycling, and sometimes even landfilled. This is a crying shame, because in addition to the metal, plastics and glass, they contain incredibly valuable materials such as silicon, silver, indium and gallium that end up being irretrievably lost.
“The main goal of Photorama and our collaboration is to demonstrate the potential of upcycling by implementing new innovative ecosystems and offering new business perspectives. That is why I am so pleased with this collaboration and the synergies between the different partners from all relevant stages in the solar panel value chain. After all, high-tech products require high-tech recycling,”says Claire Agraffeil, Project Manager CEA.
High-quality recycling supports circular production, making the solar panel supply chain more sustainable. It also provides a clear solution to the solar panel end-of-life waste stream.
PV waste is very complex and consists of several ‘layers’. The scientific and technical challenge is great, for both the recycling and design of solar panels whose components are all easily recoverable after processing. Above all, the aim is to harvest high-quality recyclates with a purity that allows them to be used for new solar panels. Working groups are focusing on recovering materials that are economically valuable, such as metals, high-grade silicon, silver and glass.
"In Lommel, all the partners presented their research results for the past six months. We made good progress and had constructive discussions about the key challenges ahead. The various working groups will get back to work with renewed focus in the coming months, to make solar panels fully circular,” Danny Timmers, Manager Business Development Maltha Renewi, summarises with satisfaction.
It has come full circle, or almost
On 20 and 21 September, these European partners gathered for a working session on the project's progress, in the capital of glass, Lommel. The sand is extracted in Lommel to produce flat glass all over the world, including glass from solar panels. New technologies will soon make it possible to process the recycled glass material into new solar panel material.
The circle will then be completely round and sustainable, just like the sun.
Maltha, a Renewi Specialities subsidiary division in a joint venture with glass producer Owens-Illinois, is one of Europe's largest glass recyclers with seven sites across Benelux, France and Portugal. Using innovative techniques, we sort and recycle more than 1 million tonnes of different types of hollow glass (including jars and bottles) and flat glass (including mirrors and windows) back into cullet and powdered glass for reuse in the glass, glass wool and construction industries every year. For more information: www.maltha.nl.