Energy: ENEA and Enel Green Power in EU project to manufacture photovoltaic panels from end-of-life models


Developing innovative technological solutions to maximize the recovery of raw materials from photovoltaic panels at the end of their life and creating a European industrial chain to produce new ones in a circular economy perspective. This is the goal of the EU project  PHOTORAMA[1], funded by the Horizon2020 program with 8.4 million euro, which brings together 13 research institutes and European companies, including ENEA and Enel Green Power (EGP) for Italy and the French CEA<[2] as coordinator.

“The technology we are working at will make it possible to recover almost 100 percent of materials from panels at the end of their life and with a degree of purity never achieved before. Today there is no industrial process in the world capable of doing this. Achieving this goal would help the entire solar industry take a huge step forward from current recycling standards and, above all, reduce Europe's dependence on imports of critical raw materials ", explained Massimo Izzi  at the Engineering Laboratory for Photovoltaic Industry, project coordinator for ENEA.

ENEA will study the eco-design of photovoltaic modules to develop a production method to make all panel components easily recyclable. Enel Green Power will determine the best recycling technology for photovoltaic modules and validate its use - for photovoltaic modules manufacturing - of components produced with recovered raw materials, increasing the circularity of the modules of the 3SUN factory in Catania.

Figure 1. PHOTORAMA recycling model for a true circular economy of photovoltaic panels at the end of their life cycle
The new industrial line will use an innovative delamination technology that can efficiently separate the solar cells from the glass plate, and innovative chemical-physical processes allowing to recover all the materials without resorting to current inefficient photovoltaic modules shredding techniques in which the cells, the valuable part of the module, end up in a recovery chain of low economic value (the so-called down-cycling). The new technological process will result in an "up-cycling" with the recovery of high-value materials (such as aluminum from the frame and glass and polymers from the sheets) and metals from the solar cell layer (key such as silicon, indium and gallium, and precious like silver).

"The new recovery and recycling technology will thus allow the implementation of a significant economic business case through a high recovery percentage, higher than 98% of photovoltaic materials at the end of their life cycle at an industrial level. At present this is the highest percentage of recycling known worldwide ”, Izzi said.

Figure 2. New PHOTORAMA recycling technology compared with the current one
The report "End of Life: Solar Photovoltaic Panels" of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that available panels will go from 10 million tons in 2030 to about 78 million tons in 2050, which would make it possible to build over 2 billion new panels and generate a 15 billion dollar turnover. The future of photovoltaic modules, therefore, can become an opportunity capable of generating a turnover, linked to recoverable components, of 450 million dollars by 2030.

Furthermore, the growth in solar electricity generation is projected to reach a cumulative capacity of 2,840 GW by 2030 and 8,519 GW by 2050, equivalent  to eighteen times the global capacity in 2018. Although photovoltaic panels provide a zero-emission energy generation over a 25-30 year span, it is essential to increasingly guarantee sustainable products with a low environmental impact to support the ecological transition envisaged by the European New Green Deal.

For more information:


[1] PHOtovoltaic waste management – advanced Technologies for recOvery & recycling of secondary RAw MAterials from end of life modules

[2] Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives

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