Interview: Jaideep N. Malaviya

Managing Director and Board Director at Malaviya Solar Energy Consultancy and ISES

Since e-waste regulation bans landfilling, recycling is the only option

March 21, 2023. By News Bureau

The management of solar PV modules panels/cells has been added in Chapter V of the e-waste (management) rules 2022 which will come into force from 1st April, 2023 and is second only after European Union with a National law. Since the e-waste regulation bans landfilling hence, recycling and recovering materials therein is the only option, shared Mr. Jaideep N. Malaviya, Managing Director, Malaviya Solar Energy Consultancy ; Board Director, International Solar Energy Society in an interview with Energetica India. Mr. Malaviya added that recycling will become an industry in itself and create job opportunities and provide entrepreneurial opportunities.

Que: India plans to reach 300 GW of solar power by 2030. What can the country do to manage solar photovoltaic module waste better?

Ans: With the current target of 300 GW and it is anticipated India will be the third largest market for solar PV. Since the e-waste regulation bans landfilling hence, recycling and recovering materials therein is the only option. By recycling, the recovered materials can be re-used as base materials to produce new modules, thus justifying the circular economy. The targeted 300 GWp translated by weight close to 185 million tons that will be effectively needed to be treated post end of life.

Que: Being a consultant, what are your views on the ministry’s decision to include solar PV modules in e-waste rules 2022?

Ans: It is a commendable move to minimise environmental impact and knowing the ambitious targets. Recycling will become an industry in itself and create job opportunities and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for establishing facilities at multiple locations owing to India's vast geographic land.

Que: What are the impacts of solar panel disposal on the environment? With technology advancements, what are the reusing and recycling solutions available?

Ans: Solar PV modules have hazardous elements like traces of antimony in glass and lead in the solder interconnecting PV cells but they are below the threshold limits. Given the over 185 million tonnes disposal volumes at end of life, they will leach the landfill. By recycling and reusing the recovered materials the environmental impacts of fresh mining will be reduced.

Glass and aluminium make up almost 90 percent by weight and are easy to recycle back as base materials, resulting in process energy savings as high as 75 percent thus reducing the carbon footprint. There are mechanical, thermal and chemical means to recover silicon, copper, silver, tin and lead that currently exist and recover up to 85 percent but challenges are aplenty to ensure 100 percent recovery. Recycling the polymer sheets is yet a challenge. Recovering precious silver will become the driver to evolve low-cost solar panel recycling methods.

Que: The collection of waste PV modules is considered one of the most challenging steps in the recycling process. What could be the possible solutions to it?

Ans: That is a good observation. Logistics costs will challenge recycling unless R&D for low-cost mechanisms is developed. Given the intellectual power in India, solutions will emerge. To reduce the logistics burden, multiple such facilities will have to be set up in the country. The government can also invite 100 percent foreign equity that offer low cost solutions. With economical solutions, entities can also export technologies.

As one of the leading global economies in PV market, India can as well set global benchmark for safer recycling.

Que: The e-waste (management) rules 2022 will come into force from 1 April 2023. Is the industry ready to comply with the rules? Do you think it will pose challenges to the country’s ambitious RE target?

Ans: There is no need to press the panic button as there is no need to recycle the panels immediately. Instead, they can be stacked until 2033-34 unless they get them recycled from a certified recycler. It is however crucial to note that no solar panels can be landfilled with effect from 1st April, 2023. We are working on offering third-party services to collectively manage the requirements as laid by Central Pollution Control Board.

I don't see any hindrance by way of e-waste regulations to come in way of targets. In fact, by recovering the materials post-recycling, the country will greatly reduce its import dependency.

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