ETU “LETI” students develop an approach for recycling used solar panels

28.07.2020

One of the main areas of students’ research at the Department of Engineering Environmental Protection is the development of methods for recycling components of used solar panels.

Students take part in an innovative project entitled “Recycling and Disposing of Solar Panel Components at the End of Their Lifecycle,” which combined several bachelor’s, two PhD, and one doctoral thesis. The project is implemented jointly with the University of Cadiz (Spain) based on a laboratory of environmental protection technologies and a laboratory for renewable energy sources.

The project aims to increase non-waste nontoxic recycling of photovoltaic elements while producing polycrystalline silicon of maximum purity using new technologies and complex methods of evaluating the quality of the resulting product and reducing environmental impact.

“It’s too early to draw any specific conclusions. But the main goals are to identify the safest for the environment method of separation of solar panel components, to determine the levels of toxicity of components when disposed to a landfill using various test approaches, and develop a way to reuse monocrystalline silicon, the most expensive component of solar panels.”

Irina Vezhenkova, Deputy Head of the Department of Engineering Environmental Protection of ETU “LETI”

Two years have passed since the launch of the project, but it is developing rapidly, bringing together more and more students into one team and expanding the field of research.

“Over the past two years, we have participated in the startup development program and a large number of competitions – from Perm to Rio de Janeiro. This helped us to determine the main direction of research. We didn’t win a prize everywhere, but at every event, we were able to hear the experts’ opinions about our development. The product we are developing is unparalleled. And the very area of eco-friendliness of alternative energy sources at the stage of their disposal has been little studied both in Russia and abroad.”

Maria Stepanova, a PhD student of the Department of Engineering Environmental Protection of ETU “LETI”

Today, students are involved in research in three areas. They analyze methods used to separate solar panel components that have lost their properties using SimaPro software jointly with the Department of Environmental Technologies of the University of Cadiz and SolarProject. The second direction is to determine the level of toxicity of components of used solar panels. Also, under the guidance of Irina Vezhenkova, students are developing methods and tools for industrial recycling of photovoltaic power components with the extraction of PV-silicon while reducing environmental risks.

In November 2019, ETU “LETI” students took third place in the finals of the Russian innovation project accelerator competition called Big Exploration 2019. An expert jury consisting of representatives of the country’s leading enterprises and investment community highly appreciated their project.

In October 2019, the project received a grant from the Verinsur landfill (Cadiz, Spain), and in December 2019, it was named the best international environmental project of the University of Cadiz in 2019.

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