A Circularity Assessment for Silicon Solar Panels Based on Dynamic Material Flow Analysis: Preprint

Sherif Khalifa, Benjamin Mastrorocco, Dylan Au, Teresa Barnes, Alberta Carpenter, Jason Baxter

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Solar photovoltaics (PV) are the fastest growing renewable energy technology for clean, inexpensive, and sustainable electricity generation. Along with numerous technical roadmaps to improve system cost, performance and reliability, the PV industry should also plan to handle large volumes of silicon panel waste, which is initially estimated to be ~13 million metric tons (MT) by 2050 in the U.S. alone. Understanding the magnitude of material needs and how material flows throughout the PV panel life cycle could respond to design, operational and different end-of-life (EOL) circular pathways will help transition into a circular, resource-conserving economy. Herein, we introduce a dynamic material flow analysis (DMFA) framework based on electricity generation to quantify time-series stocks and flows of bulk PV materials (e.g., solar glass and aluminum frames) throughout the life cycles of utility-scale silicon PV systems in the U.S. in the period 2000-2100. We apply the model to a range of scenarios to understand how material demands depend on selected PV-related parameters, different material circularity strategies, and recent module design trends (e.g., bifacial, frameless). We found that float glass and aluminum in PV installations would likely reach 100 million MT and 12 million MT by 2100, respectively, in the baseline scenario. The most influential parameters for PV installation and subsequent waste reduction are found to be module lifetime, module efficiency, annual degradation, and material reduction. Module recycling and component remanufacturing were found to be the most effective material circularity strategies for waste minimization. Panel reuse has negligible savings on waste under current module efficiencies compared to replacements with newer generations with higher efficiency. Ongoing trends to produce larger power frameless modules could save 10 million MT of glass and ~9 million MT of aluminum. Our results enable advanced planning for future materials needs and provide insight into potential opportunities to minimize waste.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2021
Event48th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC 48) -
Duration: 20 Jun 202125 Jun 2021


Conference48th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC 48)

Bibliographical note

See NREL/CP-6A20-81157 for paper as published in proceedings

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-6A20-80275


  • circular economy
  • crystalline silicon photovoltaics
  • dynamic material flow analysis
  • waste management


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