The global clean energy company, Orsted, is partnering with Solarcycle to recycle Orsted’s end-of life solar modules when decommissioned from projects across the United States. The agreement for the recycling of crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar modules builds on Orsted’s existing recycling contract for thin-film modules signed with First Solar.
With the two partnerships engaged, all modules in Orsted projects are now connected to a recycling agreement. While Orsted’s U.S. solar projects are still in the early stages of their lifetime, the company has already recycled 4,000 panels. The company has over 1.1 GW of solar assets in the U.S. that will have coverage by Solarcycle, with an aim to have 17.5 GW of onshore wind and solar capacity by 2030. This presents a massive opportunity for the company to recoup materials as their assets reach end-of-life.
Solarcycle, based in Texas, opened its recycling facility in 2022 to accelerate the circular economy for the solar industry. It offers a process for recycling solar modules that includes either repurposing them for other applications or extracting valuable materials from the modules.
The extraction process is able to reclaim 95% of a module’s materials including silver, silicon, copper and aluminum. Solar glass can also be reused or recycled. Research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that by 2040, for key materials, recycling can meet 25% to 30% of domestic solar manufacturing needs in the United States.
“Solar energy is an integral part of Orsted’s growing land-based portfolio and is one of the most powerful technologies we have to produce the clean energy our communities and business partners need,” said David Hardy, Group executive vice president and chief executive officer Americas at Orsted. “As a leader in sustainability, we are thrilled to work with such an innovative American company to ensure c-Si solar modules are disposed of properly and to support a company spearheading solutions on behalf of the solar industry. Not only does this advance sustainability for Orsted and the industry, but it also strengthens the American renewable energy supply chain.”
Today, less than 10% of all end-of-life modules are currently recycled in the U.S., but that is expected to change as companies adopt sustainable best practices for end-of-life management. Target, for example, just decommissioned a 360 kW solar installation in Los Angeles and sent the modules to Solarcycle where the modules will be processed, recycled, and reintegrated into the supply chain.
Rystad Energy estimates that recyclable materials from PV panels at the end of their lifespan will be worth more than $2.7 billion in 2030, up from only $170 million this year, and the value will approach $80 billion by 2050.
Based on the rate of installations and a 15-year lifespan for some solar modules, Rystad estimated that the North American market for recycled solar modules will be worth $1.5 billion in 2037, and this number may be on the conservative side, as the projection was prior to the solar boom ignited by passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Solarcycle is at the head of the curve and has been the recipient of generous funding during its first year in business. The company raised $30 million in Series A funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $37 million since its inception.
“Orsted’s 100 percent commitment to recycling their solar projects in the U.S. and globally is notable and the first-of-its-kind. Their leadership is walking the walk, and we are grateful to collaborate with their team to meet their circular economy goals,” said Suvi Sharma, CEO and co-founder of Solarcycle. “Today’s announcement also demonstrates that the industry no longer sees recycling as an afterthought, but it is rapidly becoming the norm to plan for end-of-life practices years in advance.”
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