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SA solar panel recycling facility prepares for operation

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A large-scale solar panel recycling plant in South Australia, set to be one of the first in the country, is gearing up to begin operations by mid-year as the company behind the complex eyes a second site in Queensland.

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South Australian-based company Reclaim PV Recycling committed to a long-term lease and approval for a solar panel recycling facility at its Lonsdale site in Adelaide’s south in February and has since been preparing to begin operations.

Co-founder Clive Fleming told InDaily the plant was set to be up and running by July, with a second facility in Brisbane to also open later this year, pending council approval.

The facilities are expected to handle about 70,000 panels each annually and will be able to break the panels down into their base elements, such as copper and silicon, for recycling.

Reclaim PV Recycling was founded in 2014 in a bid to reduce the amount of waste created as a result of the thousands of solar panels being removed from homes and businesses across Australia each year.

March figures from the Australian PV Institute showed there had been more than 2.77 million PV installations across the country since 2001.

Fleming said since starting, the company had worked with the industry to begin collecting about 80,000 faulty and disused panels, storing them in warehouses in South Australia and Queensland.

He said Reclaim PV Recycling was also partnering with local councils and businesses across Australia to develop a national network of PV drop-off and collection points, with sites already set up in Coffs Harbour in NSW and Lonsdale in South Australia.

Fleming said it was hoped the network would prevent solar panels that had been removed from being dumped into landfill.

“Currently, we have a problem where if an installer has a job and they remove the panels they go: ‘what should I do with them now’?” he said.

“They’ll be able to go onto our online platform – which will be embedded onto council and company websites, as well as our own – and see where their closest drop-off point is. They can also have the panels picked up from the worksite that they’re on.”

Fleming said panels would be trucked to plants. Once there, they would be loaded into a furnace and undergo a process called pyrolysis to break down the various pieces, with the remaining materials – including aluminium, copper, glass, plastic, silver and silicon – sent to material companies under offtake agreements.

“We have the ability to take each material back down to its raw element,” he said.

“We’re not just putting it all into one big heap and putting it into roads. We’re taking each component and we’re providing each of those components into industries that are going to use them.”

Fleming said the company was also looking to begin recycling solar batteries.

“At the moment, we take solar inverters and we take solar panels and we will be taking batteries and recycling them in the next year or two,” he said.

“The plan is to do everything solar panel related.

“Because it’s going to be a massive problem if we don’t get ahead of it.”

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