Techpreneur turning Africa’s e-waste into power banks

DORCAS BELLO

IN African dumpsites, the sight of faulty smartphones, television sets, laptop parts and broken accessories like phone chargers have become all too conspicuous. In Jos, Nigeria, Luka is turning trash into cash, making power banks from e-waste.

Peering into the gutters of any Nigerian city including the capital Abuja, a stream of filth greets you — used nylon, plastics bags, tins and cans are all clogging up the drainage system.

But in Jos city, tech-enthusiast Zag Luka Bot, 29, is turning this mountain of trash into cash. His ingenious innovation of making power banks out of used laptop batteries is helping to keep his community clean and offers solutions to tackling one of Africa’s pressing nightmares, garbage.

Miffed by the government’s failure to combat electronic waste pollution, Luka, the chief executive of Zang Technologies, seized the opportunity to make a difference by mining useful components from electronic waste to build gadgets.

The initiative comes on the back of Nigeria’s national grid collapse, with millions struggling to charge their phones during almost constant power cuts.
“With this power bank I am solving three problems. I am solving power battery issues by providing sustainable power. I am saving the climate by reducing one of the sources of fossil waste – and providing power alternatives. And I am making money,” he said, swinging in his comfortable office chair.

The firstborn in a family of six, Bot is a self-taught scientist who secretly studied physics and chemistry in his room.

To his teachers and peers, he was an average student in school, with the former forcing him to take art classes and casting doubt on his ability to comprehend science. But none of them could extinguish his burning desire to pursue science courses.

Bot surprised many when he registered for science courses in his O-Levels examination. The course material ushered him into the mesmerising world of scientific innovation.

“While I was researching day and night on how to record my dreams, other things were happening” quipped Bot as he narrated his early days looking for opportunities in technology.

After high school, he enrolled for a diploma course in computer studies and as he got to know more about the inner workings of computers, he was inspired to start a business. A fusion of his scientific zest and his dislike of waste created a quest that would lead to his breakthrough – and his first big idea.

By 2019, Bots efforts had started bearing fruits. The federal government presented him a National Small and Medium Enterprise Excellence award. Four years before this award, Bot had been experimenting with electronic waste from old laptop batteries, looking at how the cells could be used to produce power banks to keep people connected over the phone during power blackouts.

After four attempts, he eventually got it right.

“Every time I remember Thomas Edison, I keep trying,” he said.

UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020 shows that a record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, rising 21 per cent over a period of five years. Africa alone generated 2.9 Mt. According to the report, only 17.4 percent of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled.

“This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US$57 billion – a sum greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries – was mostly dumped or burned, rather than being collected for treatment and reuse,” said the report.

E-waste contains harmful chemicals like mercury, lead that end up in the soil, water and air.

Zang Technologies has had four generations of power banks in two years, all characterized by major improvements and currently, Bot also recycles old car batteries and their casing into the cases of the power bank. The first generation power bank was 13000MaH with a casing made out of hard cartons and selling at 6 US dollars (2500 naira).

For the second generation, he improved the capacity of the power bank to 16,000MaH with the casing made from shoemaking materials. But local packaging made uptake slow, sending Bot on a quest to improve his products.

“Recycling still gave me the best solution,” he explained.

Bot figured out he could recycle plastics from laptop casings to make his power bank case.

“A friend suggested 3D plastic Model maker. It was just what I needed. The power banks can now compete with imported power banks from China,” Bot confidently asserted.

He also said he was not ready to take his products across Africa and even outside of Africa. He is very encouraging of other African innovators, whom he exhorts to “believe in themselves and think inwardly to turn some of the biggest challenges in the continent into fortunes”.

“I want China to know that Africa has what it takes to compete economically, very soon we will stop importing” he said confidently.

Apart from power banks, Bot said he has now also developed a foot-controlled computer mouse for the disabled and a 50 USB port multiple-charger among many other inventions – several of them in the agricultural sector.

He said he believes there is wealth in waste. And technology, he said, makes innovation interesting.

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