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Solar panels replace sand in concrete production


Melbourne researchers and local engineering company OJAS have partnered to upcycle solar panel parts for use in concrete, reducing emissions and raw materials.

The team from Melbourne University and RMIT University were inspired by a rise in interest from the academic community in photo-voltaic (PV) module recycling.

The PV modules are an important part of solar panels as they are integral to the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

They include materials such as clean glass, silicon cells and polymers which can be ground into fine particles to replace the sand element of concrete.

The team from Melbourne University are focusing on the use of alternative materials in concrete, while the RMIT team is more interested in the recycling of PV modules.

The research began in 2020 when OJAS received a $3 million grant from the Federal Government. The grant has allowed the company to employ a physical separation technology for cost-effective recovery of PV panel materials.

By 2050, it’s estimated that 1.5 million tonnes of PV waste modules will have been produced, creating a need for research like this.

Also, by 2050, the International Renewable Agency has estimated the value of the world’s PV modules to be about $US15 billion ($AUD21 billion).

The findings have led to development plans for an upcycling facility in Victoria which is scheduled for operation by the end of 2023.

Once this facility is established, OJAS will seek to expand across Australia, according to a statement from Melbourne University.

“A nation-wide collection network will be established to co-ordinate the stream of end of life PV modules, with the aim of minimising labour and transportation costs related to the collection process,” the statement read.

“The PV modules collected will undergo a series of processes to recover all their valuable materials.”

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