Even greener solar power on the way

January 15, 2016, SINTEF
Utilising solar cell materials that would otherwise end up on waste sites, is an important aim of the EU "EcoSolar" project, which is coordinated by SINTEF Research Scientist Martin Bellmann. Credit: SINTEF / Thor Nielsen

Europe wants to reduce its needs for raw materials and raise the level of recycling of resources in the solar power industry. If this project is successful, greenhouse gas emissions from solar panel manufacture will fall by 25 to 30 per cent.

"Our aim is that the solar cell industry should utilise materials that would otherwise end up on waste sites once solar cell panels are disposed of. We also want to make it possible to produce solar cell panels using less raw materials than we currently do.

These are the words of scientist Martin Bellmann of SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia, who coordinates the recently launched European Union project Eco-Solar.

The project focuses on how the entire value chain in today's solar power branch makes use of resources.

Cheaper and greener panels

Reusing materials and reducing the consumption of raw materials will make solar cell panels both cheaper and greener. When less new materials are needed, the emissions of greenhouse gases from their production will decrease.

Likewise, the energy consumed by these processes will be paid off faster than it is today.

All this should improve market penetration for European producers.

"The overarching aim is to strengthen European companies who are driven by innovation and who are able to secure Europe's power supply in a sustainable way" says Bellmann.

Smaller footprint

The aim is to reduce the consumption of by which the carbon footprint will shrink by 30 per cent for panels using the more common type of , which are known as multicrystalline cells.

For panels made of the most efficient – monocrystalline – cells, the corresponding reduction is 25 per cent. These objectives are to be reached via a wide range of technological measures (see Fact-box 1).

Solar-cell "doctor" on the way

A further aim of the project is to develop a solar-cell "doctor": a fully automated system capable of identifying defects in finished cells and repairing those that are capable of being rescued.

This is intended to ensure the best possible performance of panels once they have been installed on the premises of clients.

The project started in October 2015, and will continue for three years.

"We hope that the results of our work will be on the market within year two of the completion of the ," says its coordinator, Martin Bellmann.

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3 / 5 (2) Jan 15, 2016
Thank God someone in the solar panel production industry realized that not using recycled materials helps to empower climate deniers in their arguments against aggressive policies to develop solar energy. Honestly, I wonder what took the industry so long to make more effort to use recycled and reused products to build solar panels.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2016
Honestly, I wonder what took the industry so long to make more effort to use recycled and reused products to build solar panels.

The fact that nobody's paying them to.

It's the direct outcome of solar energy subsidies that blindly target increasing energy production, rather than R&D, which means the incentive is to buy the cheapest possible panels from companies that are the cheapest because they don't give a damn about environmental concerns, manufacture their panels using the cheapest available energy (coal) and don't put any of the money in research.

European and American solar panel manufacturers saw their business dissapear into China because the Chinese were not trying to advance the technology and in many cases are simply dumping the waste on the ground to make it cheap.

The whole system is ass-backwards. .
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2016
Looks like another step forward to me.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2016
No brainer - silicon is infinitely recyclable, as are the aluminium and glass frames.

What is more, all the energy used to make and recycle them can come from solar energy too, whether PV or CSP.

CSP more efficient for melting, PV for electrolytic purification (if needed) and transport.

The future need not use fossil fuels for anything except material feedstock and powering aircraft or for other high density energy requirements where batteries don't (yet) have enough capacity.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2016
EnviroE, have you considered how much broken stuff was available until now?

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