Thermal delamination – meaning the removal of polymers from the module structure by a thermal process – as a first step in the recycling of crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaic (PV) modules in order to enable the subsequent recovery of secondary raw materials was investigated. A correlation between treatment temperature and duration was established by an iterative process. Furthermore, chemical characterization of the resulting solid outputs (glass, cell, ribbons and residues) was performed in order to assess their further processing options. Additionally, the effect of removing the backsheet as a pre-treatment before the actual delamination process was investigated in relation to the aforementioned aspects of treatment duration and output quality. Results show that increased temperatures reduce the necessary treatment duration (65 minutes at 500°C, 33 minutes at 600°C) while generating the same output quality. The backsheet removal leads to an additional duration decrease of more than 45% at each considered temperature, while also having positive effects relating to fewer solid residues and easier flue gas handling. In regard to the main output specifications no significant influence of the pre-treatment is observed. Overall thermal delamination can be seen as a feasible method in order to obtain high value secondary raw materials from c-Si PV modules, while backsheet removal as pre-treatment should be considered as advantageous from multiple standpoints.
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