Gold – an important raw material for the production of electronics
Mobile Phones content many different metals from different countries all over the world:
For the production of mobile phones you need many metals such as
- Coltan (Congo-Ruanda; used as electronic parts and base for wireless communication technologies)
- Copper (Chile; used as semiconductors, platins and cable)
- Gold (Nigeria, Ghana, South Afrika; layers on contacts, LEDs etc.)
We chose gold as an example for mining of metals, because it is a very important metal in Ghana and it is often used in electronic products. For example 350 g gold could be extracted of one ton of electronical platins, whereas one ton ore contains only 7 g of gold. In 2010 the gold production of Ghana was 3.13 million onzes and the government earned 1.68 Billion US Dollar. After South Africa Ghana is the second largest gold producer of Africa. With 45 percent the percentage of the export of gold and germs is higher than that of cocoa. 10 percent of the total worldwide production is used by the electronic industry, which is the biggest consumer of gold.
Gold in Ghana
Until 1957 Ghana was called “Gold Coast”, because there are a lot of gold resources. So Ghana has many goldmines for example Obuasi, Kenyasi, Konongo, Bibiani…
In the 15th century the Ghanains started to mine the gold. Since the 19th century the colonial empires have exploited the gold. Nowadays gold mining is dominated by companies of industrialised countries (Australia, England, Germany, Canada, America and South Africa).
These companies exploit the mines and sell the gold on the world market and make the profit out of it. The Ghanaian workers often have to work under very hard conditions and risks for their health, whereas they get very little salaries. Mostly the companies use surface mining, because it’s much cheaper than underground mining, but the disadvantage of this is that land especially the tropical rainforest is destroyed in a vast area. Farmers who had used the land for food supply had been expelled and therefore lost their basis of living.
Beside the big mining companies in Ghana it is allowed that small miners dig for gold on their own responsibility.
In all theses processes material that contains a very little content of gold is left mostly as waste that can´t be recovered.
Gold recovering from waste material
In recent time processes were developed that allow to enrich gold of materials that contain very small percentages of gold.
We visited one of these enterprises, the Gold Recovery Ghana Limited. It’s managed by a South African company. The plant is quite small and has 56 Ghanaian employees. A chemical assistant explained us how the process of extracting gold is done. The company buys the waste material that contains gold, it goes in a mill where it’s been shred by many metal balls. The gold is recovered in several steps up to 70 percent of pure gold. The work in such an enterprise is very hard and dusty. We discussed what it means for the employees to work under these difficult und dangerous conditions.
Recycling of electronic waste
As electronics like mobile phones or computers contain a lot of gold (see above), in our opinion recycling would be a more effective and ecological way to get gold.