Innovation Interview: SOLAR MATERIALS on leading the solar recycling revolution
Germany´s SOLAR MATERIALS is leading Europe´s green revolution with solar panel recycling. Instead of the traditional shredding and sorting process, SOLAR MATERIALS introduces a layer-by-layer thermo-mechanical process that recovers important raw materials.
The company recently became 1 of just 47 companies to secure EIC Accelerator funding from Horizon Europe, paving the way to truly circular solar energy.
Read on to learn more about the company and their recent win from Dr.-Ing. Jan-Philipp Mai, Co-founder.
SOLAR MATERIALS´ co-founders (from left to right): Jan Bargel, Fridolin Franke, and Dr. Jan-Philipp Mai.
How did you solve the issue of raw material recovery in solar material recycling when others couldn’t?
In contrast to many tech companies, we did not put our technology first but tried to figure out the real technical challenge and the best possible solution. And from a commercial point of view, we knew we would only be successful if we could recover silver as the most valuable material inside a solar panel. We started with a lot of trial and error until everything summed up to form our current approach. Additionally, we did not have any background in recycling, allowing us to think outside the box. The result is a recycling technology which looks more like a reverse production line, rather than a traditional recycling solution.
Germany is a leader in solar energy. How has this position influenced your startup journey?
Without Germany being a pioneer in solar panel installations starting in the early 2000s, today Germany would not be the first large recycling market. This means, we can now lead the recycling revolution at the world’s largest solar panel recycling market and later on expand our business to other global core markets. Thus, Germany’s pioneering work in solar installations paved our way to be a pioneer in solar panel recycling. Although Germany and Europe lost their solar panel manufacturing capacities, we now can contribute to forming a new European solar industry.
What excites you most about SOLAR MATERIALS´ EIC Accelerator win?
It came at the exactly right time. As we are currently ramping up the first pilot line, we now have the resources to directly funnel our learnings into building the industrial solution in the upcoming months. Besides, solely being selected is a huge achievement for us and a seal of excellence for our innovation. This has a huge positive effect on our ability to further attract capital, partners, clients, and build a winning team.
How did SOLAR MATERIALS´ collaboration with Evolution help to prepare you to secure EIC funding?
Honest answer: We would never have maneuvered the application process or would even have skipped the opportunity due to the sheer amount of work and documents. While the written proposals were a lot of work, we really realized what we were up to when Evolution started preparing us for the interview. Nearly every day for four weeks we had a meeting or rehearsal to deliver the perfect pitch and interview with experts from every domain. And in the end, the success is proof that we were in good hands with Evolution as our consultancy.
What ‘s next?
The wave of end-of-life solar panels will hit us within the next three years, and then we need to be ready to recycle solar panels on a really large scale. Thus, we now plan our first industrial sized recycling site in the heart of Germany with a capacity of 8,000 tons to start operations within the next two years. This means bringing our technology to the final level and transforming our tech company into a recycling company.
Thank you, Jan-Philipp and team, for sharing your story with us. Europe´s cleantech future is brighter because of your vision for SOLAR MATERIALS.