Solar panels paving the path to new recycling hub

Solar panels could go from looking up at the sky to providing paths on the ground as part of a recycling plant proposed by one of Australia’s biggest energy providers.

AGL revealed on Tuesday that it would partner with recycling firm Elecsome to launch a feasibility study into a recycling plant and an accompanying solar cable manufacturing facility at its Hunter Valley hub.

If successful, the plant could recycle as many as 500,000 solar panels a year and repurpose the glass into a concrete mix used to create driveways and footpaths.

The facility would join a growing number of solar panel recycling plants created to deal with electric waste after the panels were banned from landfill in Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia.

AGL energy hubs general manager Travis Hughes said the two companies would investigate the engineering and infrastructure needed to establish recycling and manufacturing plants, as well as environmental approvals needed for their operation.

The planned recycling plant would use the glass from solar panels to create a concrete pre-mix called SolarCrete, while the manufacturing plant could produce up to 20,000km of solar cable each year.

‚ÄúSince the closure of Liddell Power Station one year ago, we have signed (memorandums) that could bring battery recycling, with Renewable Metals, and solar panel manufacturing, with SunDrive, to the Hunter Energy Hub,‚ÄĚ he said.

‚ÄúIf successful, the establishment of a solar panel recycling plant and solar cable manufacturing plant with Elecsome will mean we are hosting several parts of the solar energy value chain.‚ÄĚ

Elecsome chief executive Neeraj Das said the plans, if feasible, could help Australia to cut emissions and advance ‚Äúresource recovery and onshore manufacturing‚ÄĚ.

If the recycling plant goes ahead, its second stage would target the extraction of other materials from used solar panels.

This would include silicon wafer for use in new panels, electric conductors for appliances, as well as the recovery of silver, copper and aluminium.

Several companies have established solar panel recycling facilities in Australia, including Ecoactiv, Gedlec Energy, PV Industries and Resolarcycle.

Used panels are banned from landfill in three states, with Western Australia announcing plans to enact similar restrictions later this year.

Australia is a world leader in rooftop solar installations, with the Australian Energy Market Operator estimating about one in every three homes has panels installed.

The average life of solar panels is estimated between 25 and 30 years.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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