Scientists Urge Action Over Life-Threatening Pollution From Solar Power Waste In Africa

Scientists Urge Action Over Life-Threatening Pollution From Solar Power Waste In Africa. Researchers from The University of Manchester investigating waste management practices for off-grid solar technologies in Malawi have discovered life-threatening quantities of lead pollution from improperly managed battery waste.

Common informal recycling activities for lead-acid batteries used in solar energy systems were recorded to release 3.5-4.7 kg of lead pollution from a typical battery, which is equivalent to more than 100 times the lethal oral dose of lead for an adult.

Off-grid solar technologies are used to provide power to areas lacking traditional grid connections and are crucial for expanding electricity access across sub-Saharan Africa. The private market for off-grid solar electrification technologies is expected to provide electricity access to hundreds of millions of people by 2030, subsidized by global energy companies in the Global North, including the UK. Meanwhile, household scale off-grid solar energy systems in sub-Saharan Africa mostly depend on lead-acid batteries as the most affordable and established energy storage technology.

But the scientists warn that the absence of formal waste management infrastructure presents major human health and environmental risks and urge government intervention immediately.

Scientists Urge Action Over Life-Threatening Pollution From Solar Power Waste In Africa

This research, published in the journal Applied Energy, was led by Dr Christopher Kinally for his PhD at The University of Manchester, funded by EPSRC.

Dr Kinally said: “The private market for off-grid solar products is a very effective way to increase access to electricity, which is crucial for sustainable development. However, the resulting toxic waste flow is growing rapidly across regions that do not have the infrastructure to safely manage electronic waste.

“Without developing infrastructure, legislation and education around these technologies, there are severe public health risks. Significant social, economic and legislative interventions are required for these solar products to be considered as a safe, low-carbon technology in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Toxic informal waste management practices are known to be common for automotive batteries and electronic waste in low- and middle-income countries, but the environmental and health impacts of these practices have been widely overlooked. Now, efforts to promote sustainable development and electricity access are adding to these life-threatening waste streams.

Dr Kinally recorded that within suburban communities in Malawi, lead-acid batteries from solar energy systems are being refurbished openly on busy market streets by self-taught technicians, who are not aware of the toxicity of the materials they are handling.


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