Fair, circular solar panel / Special Prize
Photovoltaics is the energy source of the future, but also creates a massive waste stream. Biosphere Solar is a global collective developing a fair and circular solar panel. This way, we aim to set a new design standard for the solar industry, making circularity the norm. We are developing a modular PV module design, which can be disassembled for repair or refurbishment, can be upgraded with new technology, and can be recycled at high value at its end-of-life.
Detailed explanation of the submitted project or idea.
In 2020, one of our co-founders uncovered two underappreciated problems with solar: panels are thrown away and downcycled after 15-25 years and ethic minorities in China are building them under forced labor conditions.
More awareness about these problems is emerging, demonstrated by EU sanctions on Chinese solar panels and the many tenders in The Netherlands for circular solar energy. Our work has therefore been recognized as an essential step in realising the energy transition. One of the most simple reasons is that we simply do not have enough silver and high-grade silicon to reach the solar capacity needed for Net Zero in 2050. But equally important: we do not want to leave the world with 318 million tonnes of solar waste each year. As recognition for our work, we have completed the renowned Circular Valley accelerator programme, are mentioned in some of the world’s biggest solar magazines and are partnering up with game-changing companies.
The hardware we develop is open-source, enabling anyone to contribute to the concept. In our production, we avoid human rights violations by working with sustainable and responsible suppliers. The project is currently in the product development stage. Our target is to start pilot production in 2023 and enter the market in 2024.
The glass, cells and connections in solar panels are almost impossible to repair or recycle due to the lamination. We predict that our method can extend the life of the average solar panel from 15 years to 40 years, and the glass, cells and connections can be disassembled easily for recycling. This means that the carbon footprint of panel production is more than halved, and the energy return of our panel will be approximately double that (considering slow degradation over its lifetime) of a conventional solar panel. This makes us interesting for real estate developers, as the evaluation period for a tender can be up to 75 years.
Comments from Judges
FabCafe Kyoto MTRL Marketing and Production
We’ve decided to give Fair, Circular Solar Panel a Special Prize at this year’s crQlr Awards because it’s a democratic and sustainable system that not only generates clean power but also responds to some of the negative issues around solar panels such as forced labor and material waste. The design doesn’t merely deal with the technical challenges of disposal. It brings transparency to the entire supply chain and transforms it into a circular model, which I feel has tremendous potential. Trial production will begin in 2023, with a full rollout planned for 2024. I’d be delighted to see some collaboration with FabCafes around the world!