PARIS (Reuters) - French water and waste group Veolia has opened what it says is Europe’s first recycling plant for solar panels and aims to build more as thousands of tonnes of ageing solar panels are set to reach the end of their life in coming years.

The new plant in Rousset, southern France, has a contract with solar industry recycling organization PV Cycle France to recycle 1,300 tonnes of solar panels in 2018 - virtually all solar panels that will reach their end of life in France this year - and is set to ramp up to 4,000 tonnes by 2022.

“This is the first dedicated solar panel recycling plant in Europe, possibly in the world,” Gilles Carsuzaa, head of electronics recycling at Veolia, told reporters.

The first ageing photovoltaic (PV) panels - which have lifespans of around 25 years - are just now beginning to come off rooftops and solar plants in volumes sufficiently steady and significant to warrant building a dedicated plant, Veolia said.

Up until now, ageing or broken solar panels have typically been recycled in general-purpose glass recycling facilities, where only their glass and aluminum frames are recovered and their specialty glass is mixed in with other glass. The remainder is often burned in cement ovens.

In a 2016 study on solar panel recycling, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that in the long term, building dedicated PV panel recycling plants makes sense. It estimates that recovered materials could be worth $450 million by 2030 and exceed $15 billion by 2050.

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