Innovative technologies to recover Secondary Raw Materials from End-of-Life PV Modules

05/05/2022 - Enel

Enel Green Power is looking for sustainable and innovative recycling processes to recover Secondary Raw Materials (SRM) from end-of-life PV modules (including early failed modules), aiming at increasing recovery rates, recovery material quality and minimizing waste production.

Expires: 05 June 2022

Reward: 20,000 $

Meet the challenge



Enel Green Power is a global leader company in the development and management of energy production from renewable sources, with a total installed capacity of 54 GW based on an integrated portfolio composed of wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal technologies.

In the pursuit of the goal of 100% renewable generation, solar photovoltaic (PV) energy will be one of the most relevant contributors to the growth of renewables in the next decade, with a foreseen constant increase of installed capacity. However, Enel Green Power (EGP) strategy also aims at the development and the adoption of innovative solutions able to support the transition towards a more sustainable and efficient way of generating electricity in the long term.

Some researchers show that a significantly growing PV panel waste is expected in the next future. Global installed PV capacity reached around 400 GW at the end of 2017 and is expected to increase more than 10-fold to 4500 GW by 2050. Considering an average panel lifetime of 25 years, the worldwide solar PV waste is anticipated to reach between 4%-14% of total generation capacity by 2030 and rise to over 80% (around 78 million tons) by 2050. (Md. Shahariar Chowdhury et al., Energy Strategy Reviews, Volume 27, 2020, 100431, Although the amount of waste from photovoltaic (PV) panels is expected to grow exponentially in the next decades and between 80% and 90% in weight of PV panels is currently recycled, little research on increasing the efficiency of their recycling process has been carried out so far.

Growing PV panel waste presents a new environmental challenge, but also unprecedented opportunities to create value and pursue new economic revenues. These include recovery of raw material and the creation of new solar PV end of-life industries.

Although some high-quality materials, as glass, can be recovered with standard recycling processes, high-efficient recycling of PV panels can allow to recover also silicon and metals, which are generally lost in base-case recycling. Besides, Europe is highly dependent on metal imports such as Critical Raw Materials (CRM) as Indium, Phosphorus or Silicon and precious metals, as silver or copper. Aiming at reducing the waste amount landfilled and the import dependency on RM of the European economy, PV recycling is the most relevant, and also necessary, way to supply RM from the tremendous mine of PV waste as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). The projection of PV waste underscores the reality of a massive emerging market for PV recycling.

EGP is therefore looking for sustainable and innovative recycling processes to recover Secondary Raw Materials (SRM) from end-of-life PV modules (including early failed modules), aiming at increasing recovery rates, recovery material quality and minimizing waste production.

For questions about the Challenge and your proposal you can contact:



Solar energy is crucial and unquestionably the most applicable and affordable solution leading the energy transition and climate change throughout the world. Although Photovoltaic (PV) systems provide zero-emission power generation through their lifespan of 25-30 years, it is crucial to ensure sustainable products over the whole life cycle. While strong efforts have been invested for the manufacturing stage to reduce environmental impacts, the End-of-Life (EoL) of PV devices has not been adequately addressed.

The upcoming PV waste has been estimated with substantial cumulative volumes of ~10 Million tons (Mtons) in Europe and 60-78 Mtons worldwide expected by 2050. Nowadays, 80-90% of PV wastes are recycled, while the remaining 10-20%, that also contains high-value materials, is landfilled, which is not a satisfactory solution, especially in the context of the projected Mtons of PV EoL modules forthcoming.


The baseline recycling scenario is considered representative of average practices in Western European WEEE recycling plants not equipped with specialized technologies for PV recycling. This scenario starts with manual dismantling of the panel’s frames and cables, which are subsequently sorted for recycling. The remaining parts of the panel are then treated with simple techniques (e.g. hammered or ground to partially separate the glass) or directly shredded with other WEEE. Due to the heterogeneity of the PV panel (including glass, encapsulations, silicon cells and multi-polymer backsheet), this process is not able to efficiently separate different materials.

Innovative technologies, that allow the recovery of SRM (secondary raw materials), focusing on Silicon, Indium, Silver and Copper, avoiding disastrous consequences of RM permanent loss due to current landfilled or shredding practices, will provide an answer to this new environmental challenge, giving the opportunity to transform it into a new opportunity to create value.

The benefits due to the recovery of these materials counterbalance the larger impacts of the high-efficiency recycling process. Considering the full life cycle of the panel, the energy produced by the panel grants the most significant environmental benefits. However, benefits due to high-efficient recycling are relevant for some impact categories, especially for the resource depletion indicator. These treatments have to be carefully assessed since they can be responsible for the emissions of air or water pollutants.


Enel Green Power (EGP) is looking for the best – from a sustainability, effectiveness, and cost perspective – available technology or process to recover SRM, focusing on Silicon, Indium, Silver and Copper, from End-of-Life PV modules, in order to define a proper sustainable business chain, under a circular economy perspective. The solution shall be applicable in the most relevant countries in which EGP is developing its business and business cases shall consider local rules and logistic issues.


Submissions must address the following Solution Requirements.

The solution must:

  • be cost-effective, targeting operating costs in the order of magnitude of 100 €/ton of waste treated and take into account the total cost of recycling (life cycle analysis, LCA) compared to the actual recycling process;

  • be a process targeting zero waste (recycle and reuse 100%);
  • not produce pollutants (or must reduce pollutants compared to the standard process) that could have a negative effect on the ecosystem. Generally, chemical processes are used to treat the solar cells’ fraction to recover metals and silicon (Si). The processes are based on successive stages using hydrofluoric (HF) and nitric acid (HNO3), sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and/or hydrochloric acid (HCl), and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which are mostly toxic and hazardous. Moreover, the use of aqueous acids or alkalis involves the consumption of important reactants, thus generating large chemical waste streams;

  • be capable of dealing with large amounts of materials (recycling capacity > 5000 tons of EoL PV modules per year);

  • use a recycling process able to recover materials (Silicon, Indium, Silver and Copper) with a purity >99%;

  • address, as much as possible, geographically local opportunities for recycle, in order to avoid or minimize transporting for long distances due to the size, weight and scale of the materials (even if cut into pieces). In particular we are looking for solutions to be applicable in Europe (with focus on Italy and Spain), US, Chile, Brazil and Mexico.

Additionally, the solutions should:

  • use recovered materials in solar PV panels production or other sectors, in which their value can be maintained. Other uses will however be taken into account with lower priority;

  • be capable of being deployed globally, hence following environmental and safety best practices and taking into consideration laws and regulations for material handling and disposal;

  • be capable to process PV manufacturing wastes (cell and precursors, assembled modules) coming from PV cell/module producers.


The submitted proposal should include the following:

  • Detailed description of the proposed method or process that allows for a feasibility assessment by EGP and includes (but is not limited to):

- analysis of the performance of different processes for the recycling of crystalline silicon PV waste, in a life cycle perspective;

- comparison of the life cycle impacts of the innovative solution with current standard processes evaluating the environmental benefits of secondary raw materials recovery;

-a description of all chemical/mechanical/physical processes involved;

- details on the materials/components streams resulting from the process, from a chemical/mechanical/physical point of view and how they shall be used;

- a description of any potential waste product resulting from the proposed process and how it should be disposed (the proposed solution should avoid the production of waste);

- a detailed description of the overall cost of the process, including energy consumption, with a focus on its cost-effectiveness.

  • Data, case studies, patent and journal references or any additional material that supports the proposed solution.

EGP may wish to partner with the Solver at the conclusion of the Challenge. Solvers should describe their expertise and include a statement indicating their interest in this opportunity.

The proposal should not include any personal identifying information (name, username, company, address, phone, email, personal website, resume, etc.) or any information the Solvers may consider as their Intellectual Property they do not want to share.


This challenge provides contribution to the following sustainable development (SDGs) to transform our world:

  • SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

  • SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

  • SDG 13: Climate Action

Challenge rules

All proposers are invited to read carefully the Challenge and the Regulation of this Challenge, attached below in the Attachments section, before submitting a solution.

By submitting a solution they automatically accept the attached Regulations other than the Terms of Use of this platform.


Except for the people involved in the organization and management of the OPEN INNOVABILITY® CHALLENGE and their spouses or partners and their relatives up to the fourth degree calculated according to Italian law, the proposals could be submitted by all the employees working in the legal entities pertaining to the perimeter of Enel Green Power and Thermal Generation worldwide.

Without prejudice to the article 5.5 of the Terms of Use, the obligation to grant the IP rights set in this article does not apply if the winning solution is proposed by an employee of an Enel company, unless the employee is the owner of the solution according to the relevant national law.

Explain your proposal clearly in English, attach documents (max 5 files, 25MB total size) if needed.

The proposals will be admitted until June 5th, 2022 and the evaluation will start after this date.


This is a Theoretical Challenge, which requires only a written proposal to be submitted. The Challenge award will be contingent upon theoretical evaluation of the submission by the Seeker.

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer the exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solver will grant to the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions.


Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (Central European Time) on June 5th, 2022.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Specific regulation in the CSA attached at the bottom of Open Innovability website page.

What happens next?

Enel will evaluate the proposal using the following criteria:

  • Overall scientific and technical feasibility of the proposed solution;

  • Economic potential of concept (e.g. Total Cost of Ownership);

  • Business potential for Enel;

  • Novelty and creativity;

  • Potential for proprietary position (i.e., is the technology novel or protectable);

  • User's capabilities and related experience;

  • Realism of the proposed solution;

  • Maturity level of the proposal.

In case the reward includes "Collaboration with Enel", once suitable solution/s have been identified, Enel will reserve the opportunity to start a collaboration, by way of example, all or part of the following activities:

  • Test execution;

  • Supply of prototypes (if an equipment);

  • Installation and site tests;

  • Follow up and monitoring of the proposed idea behavior.

Upon completion of the evaluation, you will receive feedback.

In case of success, an Enel contact person will get in touch with you to discuss the next steps.

The final award for this Challenge is contingent upon satisfactory completion of the verification process, including acceptance of the Challenge-Specific Agreement (CSA) that is the regulation for this Challenge.

The verification process includes obtaining the following from the Solver: signed affidavit (based on the CSA), employee waiver (if applicable), proof of identity, and Counterparty Analysis Questionnaire (CAQ).


InnoCentive collaborates with Enel to manage this Challenge.

InnoCentive is the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with InnoCentive to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements.

Meet the challenge

Tipologia: Challenge prize


Paese: Brasile, Messico, ITALIA, Svizzera, Spagna, Australia, Norvegia, Repubblica Ceca, India, Regno Unito, Danimarca, Cina, Germania, Cile, Sudafrica, Serbia, Francia, Finlandia, Giappone, Vietnam, Federazione Russa, Paesi Bassi, Egitto, Argentina, Singapore, Malesia, Lituania, Svezia, Israele, Canada, Corea del Sud, Stati Uniti d'America, Belgio

SSD: 01 - Scienze matematiche e informatiche, 02 - Scienze fisiche, 03 - Scienze chimiche, 04 - Scienze della terra, 05 - Scienze biologiche, 06 - Scienze mediche, 07 - Scienze agrarie e veterinarie, 08 - Ingegneria civile e Architettura, 09 - Ingegneria industriale e dell'informazione, 10 - Scienze dell'antichità, filologico-letterarie e storico-artistiche, 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche, 12 - Scienze giuridiche, 13 - Scienze economiche e statistiche, 14 - Scienze politiche e sociali