Recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment in Ghana

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

(Initial Project description) 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 protection 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.

Final report of the EAG2-Rec research project

Update March 2024

The research project  »EAG2-Rec« has been successfully completed. The aim of the project was to develop concepts for the sustainable treatment of WEEE and its components in Ghana and to initiate their implementation together with Ghanaian and German stakeholders. The results of the project will help strengthen the cooperation between German and Ghanaian stakeholders in WEEE management.

Development of concepts

During the projects, four options for the treatment of WEEE in Ghana have been developed, ranging from low-tech options for the recovery of ferrous metals to iCycle®'s high-tech pyrolysis technology.

Posters with the key information on all four concepts can be downloaded here.

Recycling Concepts  1-4

Special attention was paid to pyrolysis technology, which is a promising recycling technology for the recovery of metals from waste electrical and electronic equipment and the safe disposal of problematic waste streams. In particular, pyrolysis technology was presented as a viable option for fractions such as capacitors, toner cartridges, thermoplastics and cable insulation waste for which no treatment solution currently exists in Ghana.

In addition to the recycling concepts, a market study was also developed to make it easier for German stakeholders to enter the Ghanaian market. It includes potential financing instruments, a description of the market landscape including potential partners and an overview of the administrative processes.

At the end of the project, an online matchmaking event was held to bring together German and Ghanaian WEEE management stakeholders. The event was moderated by Fraunhofer UMSICHT and attracted almost 40 participants from institutions and business representatives from both countries.

A central element of the event was the presentation and discussion of the most important results of the EAG2-Rec project. In addition, four keynote speakers presented their views on the Ghanaian legal framework, in particular Act 917, the impact of the Basel Convention, the current activities of their companies and the challenges in the treatment of WEEE in Ghana and Germany.

A presentation by Rafaela Craizer covered various financing options and discussed their availability, advantages and disadvantages for the Ghanaian context. 

Visit of the GIZ Ghana in Sulzbach-Rosenberg

Update May 2023

© Fraunhofer UMSICHT
Pyrolysis plant e.g. for the treatment of electronic scrap in the Fraunhofer UMSICHT pilot plant in Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

Thomas Fehn (Group Manager Recycling Technologies) and Philipp Riemensperger (Research Associate) received Mr. Markus Spitzbart (Senior Advisor) from the E-Waste Program of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) from Accra, Ghana, on May 04, 2023.

The technical principle of the iCycle process was explained to Mr. Spitzbart and demonstrated using the example of the technical test facilities at Fraunhofer UMSICHT. It was jointly discussed to what extent and for which critical fractions from manual WEEE pre-treatment in the Ghanaian context the iCycle pyrolysis process could represent a practicable solution for feedstock recycling in the context of thermo-chemical processing in the medium to long term.

It was agreed to remain in further exchange on this.

Project presentation at RETech working meeting in Leipzig

Update March2023

Project leader Dr. Peter Degener presented the EAG2-Rec project at the meeting of the WEEE and Batteries Working Group of the German Recycling Technologies and Waste Management Partnership e.V. (RETech) on March 14, 2023 at the DBFZ in Leipzig.

In particular, the staged concept for the treatment of WEEE developed so far was discussed with the participants of the working group and a further exchange was agreed upon.

In addition, the possibility of participating in a planned match-making event in the 2nd half of 2023 was presented, at which German and Ghanaian interested parties and investors can exchange information and agree on cooperations.

Construction of the E-Scrap Handover Centre (HOC)

Update July 2022 I Visit at HOC building site

Construction site of the Handover Centre (HOC)
Inspection of the HOC under construction during an on-site meeting with representatives of Ghanaian authorities and the project consortium in July 2022.

The construction of the E-Scrap Handover Centre (HOC) on the grounds of the Atomic Energy Centre in Accra is making great progress.

Completion is planned for October 2022. Subsequently, modern treatment capacities for e-scrap as evaluated in EAG2-REC are urgently needed to also ensure the acceptance of e-scrap.

Representatives of the project consortium participated in the inspection of the HOC in July 2022. In addition, other interested companies were visited during the stay and the objectives of the EAG2-REC project were discussed, the concept and potentials for the extended treatment of WEEE were presented.

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 two-year research project (2022-2024) entitled EAG2-Rec was funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection as part of the Environmental Protection Export Initiative funding program. Further information on the Environmental Protection Export Initiative at https://www.exportinitiative-umweltschutz.de