Model institutional infrastructures for recycling of photovoltaic modules Page: 2 of 5
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logistics business offers these companies ways to make
money and avoid empty dead-head runs.
Original manufacturers of equipment can dovetail their
own recovery plans with reverse logistics systems in many
ways. Often, the recovery facilities accept materials
derived from products made by other companies. With
careful design, such dovetailing and pooling arrangements
can be adapted to decommissioned modules. If
photovoltaic manufacturers decide to design a version of
the electronics model, perhaps the best strategy would be
to piggyback decommissioned photovoltaic module
recycling onto integrated recovery systems being
developed in the consumer electronics sector.
The Utility Model
In the utility model, decommissioned modules are
regarded as a component of the system for generating and
delivering electricity - just like a furnace, power line, pole
transformer, current meter, or power plant - irrespective of
whether the utility actually owns them. In this end-user
oriented model, utilities anchor the decommissioned
photovoltaic module recycling infrastructure by arranging
to recycle modules in their own arrays, and by directly or
indirectly arranging to recycle modules on institutional
rooftops and homes. Utility employees would remove old
residential, commercial, and utility installation
decommissioned modules from rooftops or other
mountings, collecting when called, using the utility's trucks.
Collecting decommissioned modules becomes a standard
function of the utility, like reading meter, repairing lines,
and removing trees.
The rationale is compelling. Utilities may well become
the largest consumers of photovoltaic modules. They have
considerable transportation equipment, including repair
trucks and other vehicles that stop at homes and buildings
anyway, and that could carry used decommissioned
modules on return trips. Cherry-pickers, ladders, tree-
trimming, brush-removal, and storm-damage repair
equipment, combined with ongoing safety training
programs, make the utilities very well suited to perform
rooftop dismounting. Moreover, decommissioned
photovoltaic module disposal services would be a logical
extension of the utilities' energy conservation, retrofitting,
and solarization programs. Clean Air Act Amendments
benefits accrue from avoiding pollution from fossil-fuel
units, and from using decommissioned modules in
recharging electric vehicles, commuter-station units, and
remote units. Load management also benefits in terms of
meeting peak demand, reducing grid construction, and
controlling power quality control.
Further, utilities already have significant experience in
waste management from nuclear, coal, oil and ash
management. Indeed, there may be opportunities to mix
decommissioned photovoltaic module materials streams
with ash from coal-fired or MSW-fired electrical generation
facilities, for example, in ash-based construction blocks.
Ashfills themselves could be disposal venues for some
decommissioned photovoltaic module materials with
concentrations of heavy metals.
Another major advantage of the utility model is the
availability of tax-exempt financing for environmental
projects, including solid and hazardous wastes recycling
and waste disposal facilities, and ancillary projects. The
Internal Revenue Service defines these terms quite
broadly, so that a decommissioned photovoltaic module-
related recycling and/or dismantling facility is likely to
qualify. The 1986 Tax Reform Act also made privately
owned facilities for hazardous waste disposal eligible for
tax-exempt financing. When such financing is unsuitable,
so-called project financing can be an attractive alternative.
The Battery Model
In the battery model, the decommissioned modules may
be likened to very big household batteries that are
"recharged" by sunlight, and similarly may require special
regulatory handling. In the battery model, a consortium of
manufacturers oversees a take-back program that uses
dedicated collection and recycling facilities. The project is
financed through member dues to the consortium,
licensing fees, or other mechanisms.
The best example of the battery model is the program
for recycling portable rechargeable nicad batteries. Three
to four hundred million nicads were sold in 1992, more
than 10% of overall U.S. battery sales. Most are used in
consumer products such as cordless telephones,
camcorders, power tools, two-way radios, and laptop
computers; since 1993, most of these products have been
redesigned so the nicads are easier to remove. Only 10%
to 20% of nicads are the cylindrical alternatives to the
familiar alkaline or carbon-zinc batteries. Nearly one-half
of nicad production is sold to business and industry
Prodded by laws in New Jersey, Minnesota, and in
Europe, and by the prospect of similar regulation
elsewhere, five major nicad manufacturers; Gates Energy
Products, Panasonic Industrial Company, Sanyo Energy
(USA), Varta Batteries, and Saft America, Inc., formed the
Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) in
1991. Smaller manufacturers, product makers, and
battery pack assemblers have joined since; there were
116 members by the end of 1992. They represent more
than 90% of nicad manufacturing capacity, and have the
lion's share of rechargeable consumer products.
PRBA later formed the non-profit Rechargeable Battery
Recycling Corporation (RBRC) to conduct the nicad
recycling program. Manufacturers pay license fees that
fund the program, and confer the right to place the RBRC
seal on batteries and products. Commercial and
institutional generators register to participate in the
recycling program, and agree to return spent nicad
batteries to designated consolidation facilities. The current
national expansion of the RBRC program amalgamates
four collection infrastructures:
1. City and county. Batteries accumulate at county
and municipal collection centers, either by individual
drop-offs or from collection at residential curbsides.
They are transported from the collection centers to
Consolidation Points. Under a contract with RBRC, the
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Moscowitz, P.D.; Reaven, J. & Fthenakis, V.M. Model institutional infrastructures for recycling of photovoltaic modules, article, July 1, 1996; Upton, New York. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc672248/m1/2/: accessed January 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.