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Adopting Circular Economy Principles into Complex Photovoltaic Design

Humankind is on the brink of significant climate change and material resource shortages. We have reached the limits of our traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ linear economic models in which materials are extracted from the earth to create products which are discarded at the end of their useful lives. To achieve sustainability with our planet we must rethink the way we consume and use resources and seek to decouple economic growth from primary resource consumption and the associated environmental emissions. Circular economy and the widespread deployment of green energy technologies are essential to achieve this. However, even renewable energy technologies have an environmental impact associated with production and disposal at end-of-life, and we must seek to minimise these impacts and maximise product take back for reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling once these technologies have ceased to be of use.

Dr Matt Davies from SPECIFIC has won an EPSRC Fellowship ACceleration of Circular Economy for Printable Photovoltaics Through Eco-Design (ACCEPTED) to investigate how we can adopt circular economy principle into printable photovoltaics through eco-design. Project partners are Akzo NobelBIPVCoEcodesign Centre WalesEdinburgh Instruments LtdNSG Group (UK)Tata SteelUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalUniversity of Northampton and  WRAP.

Printable photovoltaics (PPV) are a promising green energy technology in their infancy; now is the time to develop processes and product designs which enable effective end-of-life treatment for efficient recovery of materials and components with which to manufacture new products, to drive down cost and environmental impacts of these emerging technologies, increasing the productivity of finite resources available to us. This project develops the eco-design of PPV informed by advanced characterisation techniques to probe the photochemistry of materials and to investigate the surfaces, morphology and crystal structure of materials. This directly informs materials that show promise for scaling, quantifies stability and highlights potential routes for improvement and/or materials substitution. This combined novel multidisciplinary approach to technical development of emerging technologies, which engages key industry partners and stakeholders in the value chain; and the development of methods, tools and knowledge required for lifecycle optimisation, can hasten commercialisation of PPV technology and accelerate transition towards circular economy for the greater benefit of the economy, environment and society.

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