The Future of Sustainable Solar Waste Management in Australia
Solar in Australia is growing, with over 100M solar panels currently distributed Australia-wide. Solar stands as a front-line solution for the grid’s renewable energy demands. As solar forecasts continue to soar, so does the predicted amount of solar waste. An estimated 450,000 tonnes of PV waste are expected by 2040, with issues from transit and manufacturing meaning that an estimated 1-2% of solar panels are damaged or unfit to use even prior to installation.
To transform solar into a truly comprehensive sustainable solution, strong end-of-life management is crucial. That’s why Risen Energy Australia is proud to support Elecsome, Australia’s first sustainable solar waste management company. Elecsome uses a unique multi-pronged approach to give a second life to solar panels through reuse, recycling and upcycling, filling an important gap in creating a circular economy for solar.
Elecsome has a strong vision for the potential of used solar panels. Its goal is to become a world leader in solar waste management and transform Australia’s solar industry into a circular economy while generating local jobs across Victoria and wider Australia.
Officially launched in 2022, Elecsome was established following two years of high-end research on solar panel end-of-life options conducted by parent company Ojas Group in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and other partners.
In 2023, following a Victorian Government state grant of $500,000 and a NSW Government state grant of $500,000, Elecsome opened Australia’s first processing plant for solar panel recycling, reuse, and upcycling.
How it works
Due to the presence of materials such as weatherproof polymers, solar panels cannot be recycled using traditional methods as incinerating and recovering materials will result in the release of hydro-fluorite gases. However, through years of research Elecsome has devised a safe step-by-step process for recycling which includes collection, sorting, processing and redistributing.
Elecsome uses its network of collection centres across Australia to collect panels from both individual customers with 1-100 panels and larger distributors, solar companies and installers with upwards of 100+ panels such as Risen Energy Australia. Elecsome works directly with their customers and clients to provide the easiest collection method.
Once the panels have arrived at the collection centre, they are transported to the main processing centre. It is at this stage that the panel is analysed to determine whether it will go on for reuse, recycling or upcycling.
Reuse – If a panel passes its first-stage visual inspection and appears to be in sound condition for reuse then it can be tested across a range of standard testing procedures including performance testing, electroluminescence (EL) imaging, thermal imaging and safety imaging. The safety of the panel is a top priority for its reuse and the panel is analysed by an expert team at every stage. These panels are then reused in various projects Australia wide, with one example being the installation of a solar and battery system at Briagolong Pony Club. The completely functional solar system enables the clubrooms to be completely offgrid using recycled panels from Elecsome.
Recycling and upcycling – Through applying a range of innovative processes, old panels can be separated into a variety of materials which are then redistributed across a range of industries. These materials include,
- Glass fines – Elecsome uses the glass fines from its upcycled solar panels in its one-of-a-kind nano-engineered concrete aggregate product “SolarCrete”. By using recycled glass fines, Elecsome allows cement mix manufacturers to reduce their reliance on precious and limited river sand.
- Silicon wafers – Silicon wafers are mined and re-distributed for the production of PV/battery grade silicon.
- Electric conductors – The electrical conductors recovered by Elecsome are passed on to the appliance manufacturing industries for re-use in electrical appliances.
- High value silver and copper – These highly versatile materials are capable of reuse by a variety of industries and are critical in helping combat supply crunches.
- Aluminium frames – The aluminium from Australia’s end-of-life panels can be repurposed for can manufacturing and also sold back to the solar industry to be used again in solar panel frames.
- Plastics and polymers – These are entered into currently established sustainable recycling channels for a variety of purposes.
Last month our management team including our Head of Sales Bryan Qin, Grid Connection and Technical Services Manager Michael Forder and our Head of Marketing Lorraine Khng were invited by Elecsome to tour its first-of-its-kind solar panel upcycling plant in September.
The tour, guided by Elecsome’s Managing Director, Neeraj Das, General Manager Istvan Szcesei and General Manager of the Plant, Dipender Malik, included a demonstration on the various stages of the recycling process and a comprehensive ‘up close’ look into Elecsome’s state of the art machinery. Our team had some insightful discussions with the Elecsome team on the future of solar, the importance in building a circular economy for renewables, and the processes behind their initiative.
We’re proud to be working closely with Elecsome during these early stages and hope to see the growth of reuse and recycling within the solar panel and renewable energy industries.
If you’re a supplier or distributor of solar panels and want to discuss having your end of life panels collected for recycling by Elecsome, please visit https://elecsome.com/contact.php
Find out more about our commitment to sustainability here.