Planning for national solar panel product stewardship underway

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Sustainability Victoria has appointed product stewardship consultant Equilibrium to analyse and assess potential options for a national product stewardship to help manage end of life products.

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Photovoltaic (PV) panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in the future. For the project, “PV systems” have neem defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

Equilibrium has opened an online survey to gather input and information form manufacturers, installers, project developers, the energy industry, and peak bodies.

The information gathered by the survey along with other evidence gathered will support the assessment of potential options.

Organisations and individuals interested in the project can complete the survey here.

Deakin researchers could recycle jeans into joints

Advanced textile recycling methods could see denim jeans transformed into artificial cartilage for joint reconstruction.

Deakin University researchers Dr Nolene Byrne and PhD candidate Beini Zeng have discovered how to dissolve denim and turn them into an aerogel that can be used for cartilage biosculpting, water filtration and used as a separator in advanced battery technology.

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Dr Byrne said the denim recycling technique would also help contribute to the fight against textile waste.

“Textile waste is a global challenge with significant environmental implications, and we’ve been working for more than four years to address this problem with a viable textile recycling solution,” she said.

“With population growth and the development of third world countries combined with today’s rapid fashion cycles, textile waste is always increasing, leading to millions of tonnes of clothes and other textiles being burnt or dumped in landfill.”

Dr Byrne said Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials team used an “upcycling” approach to get around cost-effectiveness issues.

“One of the main drawbacks of textile recycling efforts is that any advanced technique requires the use of chemicals, which can then make the procedure less cost-effective,” she said.

“We use environmentally-friendly chemicals, and by upcycling our approach to create a more advanced material we can address the limitations affecting other less cost-effective methods.

“We are now entering pilot-scale trials and look to be at commercial scale within 3 to 5 years with industry support.”

Dr Nolene Byrne (left) and PhD candidate Beini Zeng (right)

She said the process worked because denim was made from cotton, a natural polymer comprised of cellulose.

“Cellulose is a versatile renewable material, so we can use liquid solvents on waste denim to allow it to be dissolved and regenerated into an aerogel, or a variety of different forms,” she said.

“Aerogels are a class of advanced materials with very low density, sometimes referred to as ‘frozen smoke’ or ‘solid smoke’, and because of this low density they make excellent materials for bioscaffolding, absorption or filtration.

“When we reformed the cellulose, we got something we didn’t expect – an aerogel with a unique porous structure and nanoscopic tunnels running through the sample.”

Dr Byrne said she believed the sticky nature of the denim cellulose solution was likely responsible for the unique aerogel structure that resulted, something ideally suited for use as synthetic cartilage.

“That’s exactly what cartilage looks like – you can’t 3D print that material – and now we can shape and tune the aerogel to manipulate the size and distribution of the tunnels to make the ideal shape,” she said.

Vinyl Council research new solutions to recycle PVC

A Vinyl Council of Australia research project has identified new recycling approaches in a bid to use 1.2 million square metres of PVC advertising banners sent to Australian landfills each year.

The REMAKE Project researched the challenges of recycling vinyl coated polyester woven fabrics, including the 5000 tonnes of billboard skins, grain covers, and truck tarpaulins sent to landfill each year.

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Studies were launched into cost effective techniques to create end products and markets for the recycled material. These studies found a number of possible options, from bags, safety floor mats, garden containers and roof tiles.

Three of these designs are being assessed for commercial viability following prototyping.

The project has encouraged industry and government to invest more than $300,000 into PVC recycling. According to the Vinyl Council of Australia, finding a solution to recycling outdoor media is important as the cost of sending billboard skins to landfill is around $200,000 per year.

Commenting on the REMAKE project, Vinyl Council Chief Executive Sophi MacMillan said that more work is needed to find a long-term, market-based, viable solution.

“The durability, weatherability and flexibility of these materials make them an excellent choice for many applications, yet they have been previously difficult to recycle. As a priority recycling area, this project has shown great potential for recovering these resources for use in new products,” Ms MacMillan said.

“Further encouragement by government and the community of circular economy programs like ours would lift recycling rates, support reprocessing of complex products as well as generate jobs and promote innovation. This would lead to a step change in diverting difficult, but quality products from landfill and a move towards greater sustainability,” she said.

“While there is still more work to do, if we find a viable reprocessing technology and end product solution, then this has the potential to be replicated overseas.”

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