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Recycling valuable materials from crystalline-Si solar modules

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A major obstacle to sustainable solar technologies is end-of-life solar modules. In this thesis, a recycling process is proposed for crystalline-Si solar modules. It is a three-step process to break

A major obstacle to sustainable solar technologies is end-of-life solar modules. In this thesis, a recycling process is proposed for crystalline-Si solar modules. It is a three-step process to break down Si modules and recover various materials. Over 95% of a module by weight can be recovered with this process. Two new technologies are demonstrated to enable the proposed recycling process. One is sequential electrowinning which allows multiple metals to be recovered one by one from Si modules, Ag, Pb, Sn and Cu. The other is sheet resistance monitoring by the 4-point probe which maximizes the amount of solar-grade Si recovered from Si modules with high throughput. The purity of the recovered metals is above 99% and the recovery rate can achieve between 70~80%. The recovered Si meets the specifications for solar-grade Si and at least 91% of Si from c-Si solar cells can be recovered. The recovered Si and metals are new feedstocks to the solar industry and generate over $12/module in revenue. This revenue enables a profitable recycling business for Si modules without any government support. The chemicals for recycling are carefully selected to minimize their environmental impact and also the cost. A network for collecting end-of-life solar modules is proposed based on the current distribution network for solar modules to contain the collection cost. As a result, the proposed recycling process for c-Si modules is technically, environmentally and financially sustainable.

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  • 2018