The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has issued a blueprint for the utilization, manufacture, disposal, and import of solar photovoltaic (PV) module and glass containing Antimony. Antimony is a chemical element that has been found to have hazardous effects on the environment.
The ministry has released the concept note after directions issued by the National Green Tribunal in Delhi. The issue of controlling the hazardous impact of Antimony dates back to August 2017 when a lawyer filed a plea with the National Green Tribunal citing the severe adverse impact on the environment resulting from solar PV panels. It sought a direction to the Central Pollution Control Board to amend the E-Waste Rules, 2016 and bring antimony within the scope of Rules 16 pertaining to hazardous substances.
According to the MNRE, the management of PV modules needs to follow the cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment in four stages: component production, module manufacturing, module use, and end-of-life- use stage.
The disposal should be done in an environmentally safe manner, and glass needs to be recycled following the principles of resource recovery, resource efficiency, and circular economy.
The MNRE has pointed out that the recycling facilities for solar panels with antimony containing glass (SPACG) at the end of life of solar panel is not yet available in the country. Such facilities can be created by the industry once the adequate quantity of PV waste is available for recycling and also a policy framework that stipulates the responsibility to the generator or producer for sending the waste for recycling.
In the concept note, the MNRE has recommended that recycling of end-of-life solar panel glass containing Antimony must be made mandatory on the generators as part of their environmental liability. Producers must be made responsible for ensuring the recycling of end-of-life glass panels as part of their extended producer’s responsibility.
It has also stated that generators must ensure environmentally sound handling of used solar panel waste. The generator or the manufacturers can be given the responsibility of recycling of used solar glass panel for reproducing new glass for solar panels. Every generator should set up facilities for the safe dismantling of used solar panels or tie-up with an authorized dismantling facility. It should be ensured that Antimony containing glass should never get mixed with normal glasses for recycling, as it will contaminate entire glass being produced.
The ministry has also shed light on the possibility of utilizing used solar panels by co-processing in cement kilns. To prevent antimony leaking into the environment, MNRE has stated only the non-recyclable material in solar panel after the removal of glass, aluminum and junction box, may be allowed for disposal through secured landfills. Considering the leaching potential of Antimony, the end-of-life solar panels will be treated as ‘low-effect waste’ and handled as per the provisions under Hazardous and Other Wastes Management Rules, 2016 with valid authorization from concerned State Pollution Control Boards.
The National Green Tribunal in its order dated February 27, 2019, had provided the MNRE with three weeks to submit the final blueprint. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will come out with a policy regarding the same within three weeks of issuance of this concept note. In March 2019, Mercom reported that the MNRE would soon be coming out with a blueprint for the utilization, manufacture, disposal, and import of solar PV module and glass containing Antimony.
Mercom recently reported that in the calendar year 2018, the Indian solar sector imported solar modules and cells totaling nearly $2.59 billion (~₹184.57 billion). The Indian solar market installed 8,263 MW in 2018, according to Mercom India’s Q4 & Annual 2018 India Solar Market Update.
Image credit: Tata Power Solar