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Getting copper out of cables the low-cost low-tech way Answered

Hi all,

I'm working on a project aimed at helping e-waste workers in Ghana. They collect cables and burn them to get the copper (see video 6min). Burning them is toxic and they damage their health. I'm looking for alternatives to this burning process.

- First idea would be stripping cables. I will need a very basic tool, man-powered, to strip them.

- Second idea would be shredding and sorting out. Probably something like this bike (http://www.halwatts.co.uk/Esource).

I would like to do it open source hardware to facilitate replication. I'm looking for people who can help by giving tips on how to build a prototype, and maybe get more involved. 

Do you know about tools that can serve this purpose of getting copper out the cables, low-cost, low-tech?




5 years ago

Your best bet is your second idea. If it where easy to strip via man power, I'd be doing it myself. Instead I sell it as "low grade wire" @ $0.35 lb US.
This bicycle design by Hal Watts looks incredible and your best way to go. The article also said that the design will also be provided to anyone building them. So, are you here just looking for someone to build your solution?

Hi, I actually tried to get in contact with Mr Watts but got no reply, I'll try again.

I'd like to develop something which is "open source", and I'd like to build a model myself. But if someone experienced is willing to give it a try somewhere else, that would be great. I'm an IT guy with no experience in hardware.

According to my information: the e-waste scavengers in Ghana who collect cables and burn them to get the copper get $1,5 per kg, which is $0,68 per lb. It seems better paid than in the US... does it make sense?

I see. "open source hardware" provided a definition in IT language I did not understand. Now I do. Unfortunately I'm more help to give you some ideas.

If I where to burn the wire I sell at $0.35 lb, I could then get $2.50 lb for the burnt copper. Those poor folks.

You and me both know Hal Watts is your answer. I see there was a phone number there to contact him. I also looked on Facebook. I'd try twitter but but I don't have an account.

I got in contact with Hal Watts, he replied and now we're seeing if we can cooperate somehow. Thanks for the help! :)

As for the open source hardware, what I have in mind as a reference is this project: the Global Village Construction Set, it's interesting to have a look: http://opensourceecology.org/gvcs.php

I'm impressed to see the difference in money between selling wire and selling copper. Let me do some very rough calculations:
- The difference between copper and wire is $2.15 lb.
- If we could make a low-cost shredder+separator that costed $200... (will it be possible?)
- Then we will need to process 200/2.15= 93 lb of copper to break even.

Does it sound plausible? I'm very interested in this because I believe there can be a market for this technology in the developed countries, and that would help reducing the e-waste exportation.

Hold on dude. There is no way you can use my copper price to get your figures. You noticed i said "those poor folks". There is huge money being made at their expense. Its very sad but the fact is the profit is always there with copper. Also, since they are not burning it, that moves their clean copper up in price......always a bonus!

As far as there being a market. I don't see how you could go wrong. Check this link out. http://www.bicycletimesmag.com/content/yuba-bikes-donates-cargo-bikes-african-coffee-growers-collective
Simplicity and human powered seem to be an absolute winning combination in Africa.

Keep it up, you just may be on to something huge here.


Hi there,

A market there is, and a vibrant one. Every single item that arrives from e-waste that can be sold, is sold, according to Mr. Watts with whom I have established contact :) He's preparing new versions of his bike!

The Yuba bikes look great, but really expensive. I think that for a project for this to work, they would need to produce locally a similar bike. Maybe for people gathering copper in the dump a bike like this would be a valuable tool.

In the end that's the core of my idea: build a set of tools that help recycling in that environment.

Thanks for all the info!