The link between photovoltaics, sustainability, and the metals industry

Bartiea, Reutera

Published in Proceedings of the IMPC2020 Congress, SAIMM


Metals make modern societies function, and increasingly, various high purity precious and special metals endow sustainability-driving technologies with specific functionalities. These metals become heavily intertwined within products, complicating end-of-life treatment. To counteract the resulting downcycling and potential depletion of scarce resources, maximising both the quantities andqualities of materials recovered during primary extraction and recycling, processes should be a priority in the pursuit of sustainable circular economy.

Adopting a process simulation approach; a digital twin for the life cycle of cadmium-telluride solar photovoltaic (CdTe PV) modules was created. The system comprises an integrated metallurgical production system that produces, among others, cadmium, tellurium, selenium, zinc, copper, and lead, all of which are required to manufacture PV modules.

System-wide resource efficiency and environmental impacts are assessed using exergy analysis and life cycle assessment, respectively. Simulation of this large and complex product life cycle at a high level of detail allows for the evaluation of potential system-wide effects of various production, recycling and residue exchange scenarios aimed at maximising the sustainability of the entire system. It diminishes the need to make arbitrary choices about allocation methods for the distribution of environmental impacts in multiple-output production systems. Furthermore, it demonstrates the key importance of metallurgy in achieving circular economy.


Circular economy, sustainability, simulation, metallurgy, CdTe photovoltaics, life cycle assessment


N.J. Bartiea*and M.A. Reutera

aHelmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology

*Corresponding author: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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