BERLIN, 19. September 2023 — EIT RawMaterials, world’s largest network in raw and advanced materials has invested, as part of their mission to drive innovation in the raw materials value chain, in Circular Silicon Europe GmbH, an innovative clean-tech startup based in Braunschweig, Germany. The pre-seed capital enables the company to build the first industrial recycling line, with a capacity of 140 tons, dedicated to recovering silicon from solar panel waste. This groundbreaking recycling process for a strategic raw material will propel the solar industry’s transition toward a circular economy.

Silicon a crucial raw material for Europe’s transition to renewable energy

Solar energy and silicon as its raw material play a crucial role in Europe’s transition to renewable energy sources, and Europe has emerged as a world leader in solar panel installation. However, with a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, solar panels will inevitably require disposal and replacement. Without appropriate measures for scraping and recycling millions of panels already installed, a potential environmental crisis looms in the future. This highlights the urgent need to manage solar power waste and recycle vital raw materials used in production.

“For the green transition to a renewable energy system, millions more solar panels will need to be installed globally. But this also means a surge in solar panel waste containing silicon. The team at Circular Silicon has found an efficient process to recover silicon from various waste streams, turning waste into a strategic raw material for Europe. This exciting innovation aligns with Europe’s ambitious recycling targets set by the Critical Raw Materials Act. We are thrilled to support the project, which marks our first direct investment in Northern Germany.” – Bernd Schäfer, CEO, Managing Director, EIT RawMaterials.  

Circular Silicon is in total alignment with EU recommendations on recycling waste in the EU

Given solar energy’s strategic importance to the energy transition, recycling solar panel waste is essential for reducing Europe’s reliance on other nations. China currently dominates the global solar panel value chain, manufacturing 80% of all solar panels and controlling 88% of solar-grade polysilicon production. However, concerns have been raised about the human rights conditions and the high environmental footprint associated with solar panel production in the country. The need for domestic recycling capabilities in Europe is, therefore, more crucial than ever. This was recently underlined by the European recommendation to raise recycling capacity by 10% by 2030 and collect, sort, and process 45% of each material contained in waste.

Closing the gap by recycling silicon from solar panels

Solar panels consist of a composite of a plastic back sheet, solar cells, and cover glass, which are glued together by a plastic (EVA). The whole panel is stabilised by an aluminum frame. The current recycling technology involves shredding and sorting, which recovers only glass, aluminum, and plastics, while the silicon solar cells are lost. Circular Silicon’s innovative process enables the recovery of silicon from the remaining waste streams, which is then processed into pellets for use as an alloying element in the aluminum industry. Additionally, the company’s R&D activities involve the use of recycled silicon for chemical products, polysilicon production, and batteries.

The company’s sustainable and low-cost recycling method is based on mechanical processes with low-energy consumption. By offering a low-carbon option with their recycled silicon, Circular Silicon counteracts the significant CO2 emissions associated with primary silicon production.

“Our objective was to find the most efficient and resource-saving process for silicon recycling. After lab-scale confirmation, we tested the process on an industrial scale and are now ready to implement the first industrial line.” – Lars Krüger, Technical Director and Co-Founder, Circular Silicon.  

“We are offering our customers from the aluminum industry a high-quality product, which is completely comparable to primary produced silicon, but with the lowest carbon footprint in the industry.” - Julian Pudack, Commercial Director and co-founder, Circular Silicon.

More information on Circular Silicon here 


Photo Credit : Niklas Beller