The issue, Watts admits, is throughput. The kids normally get through about 65 lbs (30kg) pounds of wire a day through burning. And, as it stands, it would be hard for them to get through that amount as quickly with Esource.
"The process is limited by the shredder," says Watts. "It takes a lot of energy to shred. In testing, I got to where you could do about 11 pounds (5kg) of wire in an hour." Watts says that's not bad considering that “an industrial machine that could handle 220 pounds (100kg) in an hour would cost more than $50,000." In contrast, Watts says he can put together his bicycle powered system for around $120.
But the low cost of the device isn't the only selling point. When you burn the wires, Watts says, you end up with bits of plastic melted onto the valuable copper. But with Esource, the copper comes out much cleaner. And clean copper, Watts notes, is worth about 20% more on the market. For exporters in Ghana, who can go through up to 110 tonnes (250,000Lbs) of copper a week, that's a lot of money. And so moving forward, Watts hopes he can make a strong economic argument to exporters to invest in the Esource system.
He also hopes to convince the young people doing the work, many of whom can make up to $15 a day, that Esource is worth it. These kids, he notes, often work in groups to burn the wires. He's hoping that instead they will pool their money, buy into an Esource set-up that they can share, and then recoup their initial expenditure through the increased value of the cleaner copper they give back to the exporters.
Watts will soon get the chance to make his case. His Esource idea recently won a grant from The Wates Foundation to further develop his designs over the next six months. He'll be returning to Ghana in October. He has also released a freely available manual for building an Esource system, complete with ideas for different materials that might be substituted in the original design.
"I don't think there will ever be a business for me personally in making and selling the machines," Watts admits. "For me, the incentive was to make it open source, and have it produced locally where it's needed. I designed it so that it could be made entirely in country."