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 protection Export Initiative. The project started in January 2022 and will run for 2 years.