Large parts of a solar module can be treated. With the technological innovations that took place in the last years, up to 95% of certain semiconductor materials or the glass as well as large amounts of ferrous and non-ferrous metals used in PV modules can be recovered. Some private companies and non-profit organisations are currently engaged in take-back and recycling operations for end-of-life modules.
Two of the most common recycling solutions are:
Silicon based modules: aluminium frames and junction boxes are dismantled manually at the beginning of the process. The module is then crushed in a mill and the different fractions are separated - glass, plastics and metals. It is possible to recover more than 80% of the incoming weight and the extracted mixed glass for example is readily accepted by the glass foam/glass insulation industry. This process can be performed by flat glass recyclers since morphology and composition of a PV module is similar to those flat glasses used in the building and automotive industry.
Non-silicon based modules: dedicated recycling technologies for non-silicon based PV modules have been developed, some of them use chemical baths in order to separate the different semiconductor materials. For cadmium telluride panels, the recycling process begins by crushing the module and subsequently separating the different fractions. This recycling process is designed to recover up to 90% of the glass and 95% of the semiconductor materials contained. Some commercial-scale recycling facilities have been created in recent years by private companies.