Description of field of research:

One in four Australian households have installed solar panels. After 20-30 year lifetime, these panels will enter end-of-life and they need to be recycled. Photovoltaic panels and the Balance of System (BoS) components are a source of valuable material such as silver, copper and high purity silicon, glass and aluminium. Moreover, they may contain hazardous components such as lead. These make end-of-life photovoltaic panels worthwhile both from a resource and environmental standpoint. 
The student will work together with senior researchers to make a high precision estimation of the resource potential contained in installed photovoltaic systems globally and locally (Australia). The analysis involves gathering data on panel material composition throughout the years (noting the changes in composition), the installed capacity per region (or per country), and then relating such data to decommissioned panels and current installed capacity. The calculations around these figures can yield the resource potential contained in current end-of-life panels and on future end-of-life panels. It can also provide an estimate of how much the waste management/recycling/recovery of materials can assist in the manufacturing of new modules that will be needed to achieve net-zero by 2050.
This project can be extended to a 4th-year project. 

Research Area

Photovoltaics |
Recycling |
Resource management

The student will work with senior researchers in the PV Recycling group at SPREE. The team is made up of the recycling research team (3 post-docs, 1 PhD student and 2 tenured academics) and the sustainability team (2 post-docs, 1 PhD, 1 tenured academic), all of which can support the student in the TOR endeavour. The student, however, is expected to work closely with both Pablo Dias and Rong Deng. Study can be carried our remotely so that any COVID restrictions will not impede it from happening.

The student will assist in a establishing resource-potential database for PV end-of-life and contribute as a part of one (or two) journal papers. The student can expect to learn about data sourcing and analysis, solar panel material composition, important end-of-life characteristics of panels, and principles of waste management and recycling. More importantly, the undergraduate student can experience the research environment at SPREE and understand the basic skills needed to conduct more independent research. 

If interested in the topic or want to explore a bit more, we recommend reading these references:

  • End-of-life management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels (2016) by IRENA and IEA.
  • Cleaning after Solar Panels: A Circular Outlook (2021) by Serasu Duran et al.
  • Quantifying metal values in e-waste in Australia: The value chain perspective (2017) by Artem Golev and Glen Corder.