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FRELP Project

Full Recovery End Life Photovoltaic

Project financed by European call LIFE+ 12 – ENV/IT/000904

Coordinator: Sasil S.p.A. - L. Ramon – e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Partners: Stazione Sperimentale del Vetro - PV CYCLE

logo sasil logo SSV logo PV cycle

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

The stock of photovoltaic (PV) panels has been rising sharply in recent years and is currently estimated at some three million tonnes in the EU.

However, sustainable solutions for the recovery of PV waste are still not well developed, and if not disposed of correctly, this waste can cause both environmental and human health problems.

It is forecast, for example, that from 2015 onwards, 30.000 t/year will be disposed in Europe, and over the next 20 years this amount could reach 500.000 t/year, including:

  • 390.000 t/year of glass;
  • 55.000 t/year of aluminum;
  • 35.000 t/year of plastics;
  • 11.500 t/year of crystalline silicon cells.

Since 2012, PV has been included in the EU WEEE Directive, which requires manufacturers and importers to facilitate and finance the take-back and recycling of their discarded end-of-life products.

Current technologies recycle glass in low-value industries, such as glass fibre and insulation. They do not allow for recovery of metals, especially crystalline silicon, which is used in more than 90% of PV cells worldwide. Silicon production implies energy costs that are equivalent to three years of PV energy production, which represents a serious drawback in terms of its environmental performance from a life-cycle approach.

OBJECTIVES

The FRELP project aims to test and develop innovative technologies for 100% recycling of end-of-life PV panels in an economically viable way.

Two main environmental solutions are proposed:

  • the recovery of high quality extra clear glass, to be used in the hollow and flat glass industry, thus implying very significant energy and CO2 emission savings in the glass melting process;
  • the recovery of (metallic) silicon, to be used as ferrosilicon in iron silicon alloys or, if pure enough, transformed into amorphous silicon for the production of thin films, thus greatly reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with the production of primary silicon.

ACTIVITIES FORESEEN

FRELP is designed to develop 4 treatment phases which correspond to an equal number of technological choices: every phase is concerned by a particular part of the recovering process, and alL together they will achieve the goal to recover 100 % of the PV panels:

1. RAC: Recovery of Aluminum and Connectors

2. REV: Recovery of EVA and Glass

3. PES: Recovery of energy and ash from the EVA sandwhich

4. RSM: Recovery of silicon and metals from the ash

The project will be developed in 3 principle technical phases, that are accompanied by a set of monitoring and evaluation activities, dissemination activities and management activities.

Characterization and optimization phase

During the first year, 10-30 PV samples will be retrieved by partner PV Cycle and conferred to SSV to perform a detailed characterization of the very variable components of actually dismissed PV panels. On the basis of these outcomes, during 9 months, technologies will be optimized for the following most complicated recovery processes:

- Optimization of glass-EVA detachment technologies for industrial application

- Optimization of the plastics material thermal cracking in inert environment

- Optimization of the metals recovery process

Design and construction of prototypes

On the basis of the outcomes of the previous phase, 2 prototypes will be designed during next 6 months:

- the robotic system for detachment and recovery of aluminum and connectors (RAC)

- the system for detaching EVA polymer from glass and recovery of both components. (REV)

The prototypes will be built and commissioned during the following year.

A pyrolysis furnace yet exists in Sasil production site and will be adapted for the recovery of ash and energy from EVA. Other existing equipment will meanwhile be adapted for the recovery of silicon and metals from the ash.

Trials with the prototypes

After two years from project start the pilot plants will be fully functional to start tests with the technologies for the separation of aluminum, connectors, EVA polymer and glass. To this end, PV Cycle will supply about 3.500 ton of dismissed PV panels. Three months later the adaptation of existing equipment for the subsequent treatment phases will be completed and sufficient materials produced by the pilot plants for separation of components to perform the trials with the last treatment phases aimed at the recovery of energy, silicon and metals. In total the trials will last 15 months.

Monitoring and evaluation

During the entire project duration, environmental impact of the technologies will be monitored. A Life Cycle Assessment will be performed on the outcomes of the developed and trialed treatment process. Finally, also an assessment of socio-economic impacts will be made.

Dissemination

A broad set of dissemination activities will be developed during the project to inform target groups and stakeholders on the projects objectives, major achievements and results.

As main stakeholders are considered photovoltaic industry associations, PV panels producers, collective recycling consortia and associations  and recycling companies, as well as scientists and public authorities. Also representatives of the industries that will be able to use the FRELP final products will be involved as stakeholders where their inputs could be fruitful for the definition of output requirements.

Target groups of the dissemination activities will be primarily solar module manufacturers for thin-film as well as crystalline PV; solar system integrators and manufacturers of mounting systems for PV-plants; glass manufacturers and metallurgic industries. environmental interest groups; public authorities, academic and scientific world, PV collector associations.

Starting from a mailing list that will be updated during the project, a project brochure will be produced and diffused (in Italian and English), press releases will be sent out at key moments and in occasion of events; presentations on the project will be given at conferences in Europe; a mid-term seminar will be organized as well as a final conference; and open days and plant visits on demand are foreseen.

Each partner places a comprehensive notice board at its premises to inform visitors on what is going on and by end of the project a layman's report will be delivered to explain achievements to the largest possible audience. A regularly updated website will gather all news and publishable outputs as to offer a continuous communication channel with target groups.

Management

The project will be managed on a daily base by a Management Team and governed by a Coordination Committee representing all partners. Dedicated task committees for technical matters or dissemination activities may be created when useful to favor partners' cooperation. The management also deals with proper accounting and final auditing of expenses, networking with other LIFE projects where reciprocal benefits can be expected, and with the development of an  after-life communication plan by the end of the project.

TECHNICAL PROJECT SCHEME

technical scheme Frelp

EXPECTED RESULTS

The expected results, demonstrated at a pilot plant treating 3.500 t of PV panels over the project lifetime, are:

  • full recovery of aluminum and connectors for recycling in suitable industries;
  • development of a new technology for the improvement of EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) detachment from glass, preserving glass;
  • purity for integral recycling in valuable flat and hollow glass;
  • recovery of energy from EVA sandwich, maintaining the ability of crystalline silicon and metals to be processed;
  • development of a new acid leaching technology for the full recovery of (metallic) silicon, to be used as iron silicon alloys or amorphous silicon for the production of thin films;
  • full recovery of metals through micro and nano-filtering of eluate, to be used for recycling in suitable industries;
  • recovery from 3.500 t PV panels of:
    • 2.800 t of glass,
    • 350 t aluminum,
    • 35 t connectors,
    • 90 t fuel,
    • 70 t gas,
    • 157,5 t gasoil,
    • 24 t of pure silicon,
    • 3,15 t metals,
    • 0,35 t organic waste;
  • a considerable reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emissions due to the use of glass cullet in the glass melting furnace, to the substitution of virgin silicon with recycled silicon and to the production of energy by EVA cracking.

NOTICE BOARD

NOTICE BOARD FRELP PROJECT - EN

 
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