Recycling options for PV panels, batteries could drive circular economy, says NREL


From pv magazine USA

NREL researchers have reviewed more than 3,000 scientific publications on the life cycles of the most common solar and lithium-ion battery technologies. They have found that alternatives to recycling could help to build an effective circular economy for PV and battery technologies.

The review does not dismiss recycling, but it promotes other less-explored aspects of manufacturing and hardware usage. The researchers said the emphasis on recycling, while valuable, may overlook the challenges and opportunities that research into other strategies could reveal.

“If you can keep them as a working product for longer, that’s better than deconstructing it all the way down to the elements that occurs during recycling,” said Garvin Heath, senior environmental scientist at NREL. “And when a product does reach the end of its life, recycling is not the only option.”

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The researchers said that designing products with fewer overall materials, especially hazardous materials, will improve their environmental impacts more than recycling can. Recycling itself is also an imperfect process, as there are currently no integrated recycling processes that can recover all the materials for either technology, and existing research has focused more on lab-scale methods, rather than commercial-scale approaches.

“People often summarize the product life cycle as ‘take, make, waste.’” Heath said. “Recycling has received a lot of attention because it addresses the waste part, but there are ways to support a circular economy in the take part and the make part, too.”

Recently, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced $60 million in funding to support second-life applications for batteries once used to power EVs, as well as new processes for recycling materials back into the battery supply chain. These funding opportunities are part of the government’s strategy to bolster the US supply chain and reduce the reliance on competing nations.

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