Recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment in Ghana

Project EAG2-Rec: An innovative technology for downstream processing of WEEE in Ghana

The aim of the project is to examine how the existing treatment of WEEE can be supplemented by thermochemical methods and optimised distribution channels. This can increase the added value locally and at the same time reduce the environmental and health impacts. The study is being conducted by Fraunhofer UMSICHT, Sulzbach-Rosenberg branch, in cooperation with Blackforest Solutions GmbH (BFS) and German RETech Partnership e.V. as well as local authorities, companies and initiatives..

A formal recycling sector in Ghana is emerging, which is striving for ecologically sound WEEE processing and investing in processing technologies. The facilities available in Ghana so far are limited to manual dismantling and partly mechanical shredding and sorting. Fractions such as printed circuit boards, plastic housings, screens, cable granulate or batteries are produced.

But there is only a limited number of local customers for these fractions, such as copper smelters or plastics recyclers. As a result, most waste fractions rich in precious metals are exported. This places tight limits on local value creation and the revenues of local treatment companies.

Thermochemical recycling of WEEE

This is where the current project comes in: an innovative thermochemical treatment process developed at Fraunhofer is to supplement manual and mechanical separation as an additional downstream technology in Ghana.

The primary goal here is to bring the metals contained in the WEEE into efficient recycling processes. At the same time, waste containing environmentally harmful substances, e.g. flame-retardant plastic housings, is to be disposed of safely.

In the Fraunhofer process, WEEE fractions are thermally decomposed in the absence of oxygen and the metals are enriched in a solid residue. The plastics contained are largely converted into energy sources with a high energetic value in the form of oil and gas. In addition to copper, up to 19 other metals such as gold or platinum can be recovered from the metal concentrate in the copper recycling route.

This can be illustrated using the example of a desktop PC: While such a device is traded at an landfill for the equivalent of about EUR 1.54, the thermochemical process combined with downstream metal recycling alone could recover metals worth about EUR 20.80. In addition, the resulting oils and gases can be used for energy recovery.

New options for local value creation

Local value creation could be increased many times over through such a new, locally operated downstream process. On the one hand, the income opportunities for the local people would increase, and on the other hand, the environmental and health hazards would decrease.

The technical and economic concept development is to be carried out with the participation of Ghanaian ministries, companies and authorities as well as in close coordination with already existing initiatives in the field of WEEE collection and treatment. Existing knowledge and infrastructures from ongoing projects will be included, especially the activities in the »E-Waste Programme«, which is supported by GIZ and KfW.

In order to be able to assess the application possibilities of the process, the technical and economic feasibility as well as the ecological advantages under the conditions in Ghana will be examined in the project. If the results are positive, the recycling model could be transferred to other countries with a similar situation, for example Nigeria, Rwanda or Côte d'Ivoire.

The project, entitled EAG2-Rec, is funded by the German Federal Minstry for the Environment as part of the Environmental Technologies Export Initiative. The project started in January 2022 and will run for 2 years.

Modular pilot plant for the thermochemical treatment of WEEE at Fraunhofer UMSICHT in Sulzbach-Rosenberg.
Economical operation is already possible from reactor sizes of 70 kg / h.
Various fractions of WEEE can be thermochemically processed. Even shredder residues still contain valuable metals and energy.

Presentation of the EAG²-Rec project at IFAT

Update June 2022 | Presentation of concept development

Presentation of the EAG2-Rec project at IFAT 2022, followed by a productive discussion with representatives of an African delegation.
Lena Bersch from Fraunhofer UMSICHT speaks to the interested audience.

On 30th of May 2022, the project team took the opportunity to promote and discuss the EAG²-Rec project at an event during this year’s IFAT, the world's Leading Trade Fair for Water, Sewage, Waste and Raw Materials Management in Munich.

At first, Rebecca Bliklen from BlackForest Solutions GmbH presented the project idea and lessons learnt from the implementation the precursor project of EAG2-Rec on the incentive-based collection of e-waste in Ghana. In a second presentation, Lena Bersch from Fraunhofer UMSICHT Sulzbach-Rosenberg presented the current status of WEEE management in Ghana and the outlook on the concept development plans.

High potential for transfer projects

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion on the risks and chances of both approaches as well as their transferability to other countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Several participants of the event – representatives of associations and WEEE treatment companies from Nigeria as well as local offices of UNIDO – a high potential of these or similar projects in their home countries. 

Project Kick-Off in Ghana

Update March 2022 | EAG2 project team visits key stakeholders in Ghana

For the project kick-off of the EAG2-Rec project, the project team of Fraunhofer UMSICHT and BlackForest Solutions GmbH met with key stakeholders from research, politics and industry in Ghana.

The exchange with experts from the Mountain Research Institute (MRI), the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) for the e-waste programme of GIZ and KfW, and the specialists for e-waste at the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) and at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided important insights for the further development of the project.

The objectives of the project to further develop the formal recycling sector in Ghana based on the existing structures were welcomed by the local partners. This has created an important basis for the planned technology transfer from Germany.

Project funding

The project, entitled EAG2-Rec, is funded by the German Federal Minstry for the Environment as part of the Environmental Technologies Export Initiative. The project started in January 2022 and will run for 2 years.