Blockchain for solar panel recycling in Japan

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Solar PV manufacturer Next Energy and trading conglomerate Marubeni are to collaborate on used solar panel recycling.

In a programme supported by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, the two companies along with the Mitsubishi Research Institute intend to develop and demonstrate the potential of blockchain in reporting and recording information on the reuse and recycling of used solar cells.

In Japan, the deployment of solar PV has grown rapidly, in particular over the course of the past decade in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. With their product life of 20 to 30 years, by the mid-2030s approximately 800,000 tons of solar panels will require replacing annually, according to Ministry of Environment data quoted by Next Energy.

Others can be replaced for other reasons such as damage or upgrading.

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Some of these cells can be reused while others can be recycled. With the blockchain it is intended to provide a non-tamperable record verifying the status and traceability of the solar cells and their components, from first removal to final recycling, and thereby establish a market to encourage the recycling and the reuse of raw materials.

This should lead to a reduction in the amount of industrial waste for landfill disposal, Next Energy comments in a release. In addition, the reuse of PV modules instead of new modules will support carbon emission reductions as well as other environmental benefits.

Next Energy has been undertaking solar PV recycling since 2005, which it operates under the REBORN Technology brand. Among its findings from inspection of over 40,000 used solar cells are that they can retain up to 80% performance after 25 years of use.

The company also is contributing to the drafting of guidelines for solar panel re-sale being developed by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO).

In parallel with the blockchain demonstration, Next Energy also has launched a used solar cell recovery demonstration, again with the support of the Environment Ministry. Solar modules that are no longer needed may be taken to a collection site or will be collected free of charge, from where they will be taken for recycling.