Australia's First Working Solar Panel Recycling Plant Is Up and Running

The plant reportedly recycles 100 percent of end-of-life solar PV modules using no chemicals.
Chris Young

Australia's first solar panel recycling facility is up and running in Thomastown, Melbourne, a post by Renew Economy explains. Impressive footage of the facility, captured by Gerard O'Laoi, Managing Director at Gedlec Energy Pty Ltd, shows a solar panel crushed for recycling in mere moments by two rollers.

Completed last September, the plant is run by Melbourne-based co-operative Lotus Energy, which claims to recycle 100 percent of end-of-life solar PV modules using no chemicals.

Though Lotus Energy is Australia's first dedicated solar panel recycling plant, it will be closely followed by a plant by Reclaim PV Recycling, which announced in February it is developing a processing facility in Adelaide, in South Australia.

Solar panel recycling plants have been around for a while — according to Reuters report, the first solar recycling plant in Europe was opened in 2018 in France by the water and waste group Veolia. Still, recycling methods will form a crucial part of Australia's renewable energy efforts in the coming years as the country is one of the world's leaders in solar uptake.

According to an Australian National University (ANU) reportrenewable energy in Australia is growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average, meaning it will form a testing ground for new solar panel recycling methods.

Tackling the solar panel waste problem

The problem of solar panel waste casts a dark shadow over the renewable energy industry, with experts warning that solar panels are incredibly challenging to recycle due to the hazardous metals added to the silicon of the cells to improve their efficacy.

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In 2017, Lu Fang, Secretary General of the China Renewable Energy Society, stated that, as solar panels typically have a shelf-life of two to three decades, the problem with solar panel disposal "will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment" because it "is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle."

Lotus Energy aims to rectify this problem with its chemical-free recycling method. As Gerard O'Laoi points out in his LinkedIn post, "100% of the materials separated from [the Lotus Energy] process will be reused and given a second life. All inverters, rail components, cable can be processed in this facility in Thomastown, Vic."

In a press release in September 2020, Lotus Energy said "[they are] committed to contributing to the circular economy of the renewables industry and are pleased to share no chemicals are used in the process and that all materials recovered, i.e. solar modules, inverters, cables, and batteries, can be recycled by our facility for alternative use leaving no waste for landfill."

For the video of the Thomastown plant in action, scroll down on the embedded post below.

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