CU-PV project - Summary

PV solar power is pollution-free during operation. However, the manufacturing of a photovoltaic (PV) module consumes resources and, after decades of use, will contribute to electronic waste at the end of its life. Current methods of producing solar PV modules consume a significant amount of electricity (between 1.5 – 2.5 kWh electricity/module Wp), and still rely on the availability of some critical materials, such as silver. Recycling is hardly considered in the module design, making high-value, low-cost recycling methods difficult. As the number of PV installations grow, the urgency to address these issues increases.

CU-PV aims to address PV’s current sustainability issues by

  1. reducing the energy demand in PV manufacturing by developing solar cell designs that use less silicon, i.e. thinner wafers, and/or that increase the conversion efficiency. Back-contact solar cell design will result in 50% Si and about 30% PV system energy consumption reductions.
  2. minimizing the use of critical materials, such as silver and lead. CU-PV will develop new metallization methods, suitable for thinner wafers, based on ink jetting of seed layers that are plated afterwards with Ni, Cu, which results in an at least 99% reduction of Ag consumption.
  3. improving the recycability of PV modules, via advanced designs and collaboration over the value chain on recycling solutions. In particular, the project will develop and demonstrate alternatives to current practices. The project will also analyze if the alternatives match the economic reality of waste treatment.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 308350.