Australia’s First Solar Panel Recycling Facility Is Now Operational

Australia’s very first solar panel recycling facility is up and running in Thomastown, Melbourne. The plant was completed in September 2020 by Melbourne-based co-operative Lotus Energy.

The establishment reportedly recycles 100% of end-of-life photovoltaic modules using no chemical substances. The process recovers all the PV’s associated materials – inverters, cables, optimizers, mounting structures, etc.

Gerard O’Laoi, Gedlec Energy Pty Ltd.’s Managing Director, captured and shared some impressive footage of the facility’s machinery in action via social media. Presented in the video were two rollers sandwiching and crushing a solar panel, like a paper shredder.

The dilemma of solar power waste casts a dark shadow on the renewable energy industry. Experts caution that solar panels are incredibly challenging to recycle due to the hazardous metals added to the cell’s silicon material to boost their effectiveness.

Lu Fang, the China Renewable Energy Society’s Secretary-General, stated in 2017 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. They are not easy to recycle.”

Lotus Energy aims to deliver the solution to this problem with its chemical-free recycling method.

As Mr. O’Laoi pointed out in a LinkedIn post:

100% of the materials separated from [the Lotus Energy] process will be reused and given a second life. All inverters, rail components, the cable can be processed in this facility in Thomastown, Vic.

Lotus Energy said in a September 2020 press release:

…[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.

While Lotus Energy is Australia’s first dedicated solar plant recycling facility, the country is soon to get another. Reclaim PV Recycling announced in February that it’s developing a plant in Adelaide, a suburb of Lonsdale, in South Australia.

According to a Reuters report, solar panel recycling plants have been with us for a while. Water and waste group Veolia opened the first solar recycling plant in France in 2018.

But regardless of who came first, the arrival of all PV recycling facilities and businesses in Australia is graciously welcome. Without them, the nation’s world-leading uptake of solar energy threatens to generate a mountain of waste.

The same goes globally – solar cell recycling techniques will form an essential component of renewable energy effort in the coming years.

Based on an Australian National University report, renewable power in Australia is growing at a per capita rate 10x faster than the global average, meaning it will likely become a testing ground for new solar panel recycling methods.