Feasibility and Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Monocrystalline Silicon (Mono-Si) Solar Photovoltaic Panels with Recycled Vs. Non-Recycled Materials
Christopher C Bondoc, Pritpal Singh, Ross Lee, Mary E McRae
Villanova University, Villanova, PA, United States

With the rising demand for lower carbon energy technologies to combat global warming, the market for solar photovoltaics (PVs) has grown significantly. Inevitably, the amount of solar PV waste will increase as panels are reaching their performance end-of-life (EoL), posing major challenges in waste management, critical metal availability, and toxic material leakage. To implement the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) philosophy in this industry, several PV recycling solutions have emerged to prevent these issues from hindering the expansion of renewable energy technologies. The Full Recovery End of Life Photovoltaic (FRELP) recycling process aims at recovering not only bulk materials such as aluminium, glass, and copper but also silver and silicon. In this study, a life cycle assessment (LCA) in this work seeks to compare the net environmental impacts (including carbon savings) of monocrystalline silicon panels (mono-Si) with virgin-grade materials compared to panels with a percentage of recycled material using the FRELP process. Additionally, a qualitative evaluation of recycling c-Si solar panels addresses the feasibility of implementation, regarding cost of material recovery, impact on human and environmental health, regulatory adjustments, and technical performance focusing on power conversion efficiency (PCE). Results show that recycling these components in mono-Si PV modules can provide environmental benefits across multiple impact categories. Human carcinogenic toxicity, ecotoxicity, and mineral resource scarcity can be reduced significantly with the implementation of material recovery. However, it is highly dependent on several factors including the panel lifetime, PCE, and degradation rate of the recycled panel. From a holistic perspective, results show that for feasible implementation, the cost of recycling solar must be lowered with adequate subsidies and EoL strategies mandated by regulations.