UNSW awarded $5m for new solar panel recycling research hub


A headshot image of Yansong Chen

Prof. Shen said the new Hub directly addressed Australia’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 by promoting a green PV supply chain.

UNSW Media
UNSW Media,

The researchers behind an innovative solar panel recycling method will set up an ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub at UNSW Sydney.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded UNSW Sydney $5 million to transform Australia’s photovoltaic (PV) solar panel recycling industry under the latest Industrial Transformation Research program.

UNSW Engineering Professor Yansong Shen will lead the ARC Research Hub for Photovoltaic Solar Panel Recycling and Sustainability. It will develop advanced technologies of green PV recycling and materials reuse, and redesign PV panels for recycling and reliability. The centre will also advance policy by creating a network of researchers who will bring their expertise to improving technology across the entire value chain of solar panel production.

The centre will aim to encourage industry translations of scalable PV recycling solutions and new panel designs, develop new supply chains and encourage Australia's R&D critical mass and workforce training. Other expected outcomes include the environmental and economic benefits of PV waste reduction, new jobs and markets of the domestic recycling chain, and improving sustainable energy security in Australia.

In 2023, Prof. Shen was part of a UNSW team who developed a new, more effective way of recycling solar panels. The process, which has been patented, was specially created for photovoltaic panels to quickly and efficiently sort the component materials, as a key step of highly efficient PV recycling.

UNSW Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research & Enterprise Professor Merlin Crossley congratulated Prof. Shen and his team on receiving the go-ahead to continue to build on their work in recycling solar panels.

“Effectively dealing with solar panel waste is an important part of Australia’s National Net-Zero Plan and sets up the industry to continue to be a key renewable energy source into the future.”

Prof. Shen said the new ARC centre directly addressed Australia’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 by promoting a green PV supply chain.

“A redesigned PV panel with high reliability and long service life will enable reliable PV service in their massive installations in Australia,” he said.

A redesigned PV panel with a ready recycling structure will also allow for cheaper recycling and encourage more PV installations even after the strict e-waste policy is applied in many regions in Australia, Prof. Shen said.

Prof Shen said the Hub also directly addressed Australia’s Waste Action 2030 Plan. The plan aims to reduce total waste generated by 10% per person by 2030, recover 80% of all waste by 2030, significantly increase the use of recycled content and provide data to support better decisions.

The centre’s research team will bring together world-leading Australian scientists with interdisciplinary expertise essential for PV recycling innovation. It will also include experts with in-demand expertise across the entire PV recycling value chain, ranging from PV manufacturers to PV recyclers, to key recycled materials’ re-users, Prof. Shen said.

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