Solar Panel “Upcycling” On The Cards For Kilmany

Solar panel recycling and upcycling

Victoria’s Wellington Shire Council recently voted in favour of progressing lease negotiations relating to a site for a potential solar panel recycling, err, upcycling (or something) facility in its area.

Just to get a few quick and dirty definitions out of the way:

  • Recycling – converting a discarded material into something the same or around the same value. For example, turning aluminium cans into more cans.
  • Downcycling – converting a discarded material into something of lower value than the original item.
  • Upcycling – converting a discarded material into something of a higher value than its original use.

Council has a 60-acre chunk of unused land in Kilmany, next to the Kilmany Resource Centre that fits the bill on Council’s side of things in terms of compatible uses.

As well as a recycling facility sourcing end-of-life and faulty solar panels from elsewhere, there a number of solar farms to be constructed in the region and Wellington Shire is included in the indicative mapping for the proposed Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone (REZ).

“Offering for lease vacant Council land at Velore Road, Kilmany creates synergies with Council’s existing facility with further waste processing and recycling opportunities into the future and aligns with the expansion of renewable energy industry within the Wellington Shire,” stated Council’s Business Development Manager.

And The Prospective Lessee Is..

The party interested in leasing the site couldn’t be publicly revealed until Council had voted in support of progressing negotiations. With that done, the prospective lessee was announced – Mr. Neeraj Das.

Mr. Das is the Managing Director of Ojas Group, which last year scored a $3 million grant to upcycle solar panel waste through Elecsome – an Ojas group associate entity. Other partners in the Elecsome initiative include University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

Elecsome is developing a PV panel component separation treatment based on “vortex oscillation” and delamination.

Solar panel glass will then be converted to concrete fill to replace sand, and other construction materials.  The aluminium frames can be recycled into more frames or repurposed for cans and other items. Electrical conductors can be used in other electrical goods, and EVA, polymer and silicon distributed as raw material.

Elecsome states the solar panels it processes will be “97% upcycled and repurposed”. It could be argued that Elecsome’s role isn’t actually upcycling, but whether it’s recycle, downcycle, upcycle, repurpose or just plain old resource recovery, you get the idea.

It looks like solar farm owners and solar panel manufacturers wanting to use the service will need to pay to offload their panels, but how much isn’t clear. It’s also not clear if the Kilmany site would operate under the Elecsome banner.

The leasing arrangement between Mr. Das and Wellington Shire isn’t a done deal yet. Council published a public notice this week expressing its intention to offer the lease initially at or below market value and is inviting public submissions, which close on Friday, May 28.

Trivia: Victoria was the first Australian state to prohibit the disposal of solar panels in landfill as part of its e-waste ban, which came into effect in 2019.

Related: Solar Panel Recycling – Is It Worth It?

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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