In African dumpsites, the sight of faulty smartphones, television sets, laptop parts and broken accessories like phone chargers have become all too conspicuous with governments constantly reviewing the corpus on electronic waste (e-waste) management in their jurisdictions. In Jos, Nigeria, the most populous nation on the content, 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 government’s inaction to combat electronic waste pollution, Luka, the chief executive of Zang Technologies, seized the opportunity to make a difference – mining useful components from electronic waste to build gadgets.
It comes on the back of Nigeria’s national grid collapse, with millions struggling to charge their phones to 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 says swinging in his comfortable office chair.
The first born 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 as casting doubt on his ability to comprehend science. But none of them would extinguish his burning desire to pursue science courses.
Bot surprised many when he registered Science courses in his O-Levels examination. This ushered him into the mesmerising world of scientific innovations.
“While I was researching day and night on how to record my dreams, other things were happening” quips Bot as he narrates how he begun to explore numerous opportunities in technology.
After high school, he enrolled for a diploma course in computer studies where he was exposed to computers and got inspired to start a business. A fusion of his scientific zest and dislike for wastage created his new quest that would be a breakthrough for him.
In 2019, Bots efforts 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 on how the cells can 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 says. 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 2.9Mt. According to the report, only 17.4 per cent of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled.
“This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued a US$57 billion a sum greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries – were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse,” says the report.
E-waste contains harmful chemicals like mercury, lead that end up in the soil, water and air.
Right now Bot recycles old car batteries and their casing into the cases of the power bank.
Zang Technologies has had four generations of power banks in two years, all characterized by major Improvements.
The first generation 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 shoe making materials.
But local packaging made uptake slow, sending Bot away from his goals.
“Recycling still gave me the best solution.”
He figured out he could recycle plastics from the laptop casing 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 says as he asserts his readiness to take his products across Africa and even outside of Africa.
He encourages Africans 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 says.
Apart from power banks, he has also developed foot-mouse for the disabled, 50 USB port multiple charger among many other inventions in the agricultural sector.
He believes there is wealth in waste and technology makes innovation interesting.