A methodology to liberate critical metals in waste solar panel

Mingkai Li, Samuel D. Widijatmoko, Zheng Wang, Philip Hall

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The availability of critical metals is one of the driving factor to secure the transition of energy production to a renewable, low carbon one because of the material requirement in photovoltaic technology (PV), wind power generation and batteries. For example, precious metals are vital to manufacture crystalline silicon solar panel and tellurium, germanium, indium and gallium are essential in thin film photovoltaic panels. However, the pressure on the supply of critical metals increases with the growth of photovoltaics. Considering the resource availability, the recycling of critical metals from waste solar panels can enhance the sustainability of end-of-life management, although the recycled metal input is limited in present state. Among the recycling techniques, the separation and liberation of metals from non-metals are crucial. This study investigate a methodology to liberate thin film materials from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film solar panel to recycle photovoltaic material including indium and gallium via a mechanical process.

An experimental technique using mineral processing techniques, crushing and grinding, are proposed to recycle critical metals from CIGS solar panel. In this study, the crushing experiments were conducted and the size based elemental distribution was analysed. The results showed crushing is capable to delaminate glass substrate and Fuerstenau upgrading curves and the ore separation degree were used to show that selective liberation occurs and the critical metals concentrate in coarse size fraction but may not be fully liberated. The morphology test using SEM-EDS to observe the surface of broken panel and the classification of broken particle based on size, metal concentration and surface morphology were conducted. The results suggested that approximately 90 w% of functional materials are still laminated on EVA in the size fraction larger greater than 2360 μm. It shows crushing alone will not fully liberate the material. Grinding can be used as a second stage recycling method, de-coating the target materials. The grinding test resulted in a more than 80 w% recovery rate of indium and the fine particle less than 38 μm contains more than 1500 ppm indium, more than 480 ppm gallium and 1500 ppm molybdenum. It could show that the combination of crushing and grinding is suitable to delaminate the panel and de-coat the critical metals to liberate and concentrate the metals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120900
JournalApplied Energy
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Recycling
  • Solar panel
  • Critical metal
  • Selective liberation


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