Dr. Adesalu Taofikat Abosede, a lecturer in the Department of Botany, University of Lagos, is an unassuming scientist. The widely published phycologist has been working on plants under water for a while, discovering new organisms and branding them with Nigerian names.
I contacted her recently and she told me about her use of direct saponification-esterification conversion (DSEC) to convert microalgae into biodiesel in a cost-effective manner, and how commercialization of the research can provide a new world of opportunities for clean, alternative energy in Nigerian homes, especially in rural areas.
Excerpts from our conversation has been reproduced here:
Congratulations on the latest breakthrough, can you take us through the events that led to your discovery of a cheaper way to use algae for production of biodiesel?
As a phycologist, I have always been on the path of solving one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through research using microalgae but due to financing, many of those proposals were just there, not being commercialized. So, on the issue of biodiesel from microalgae, it is a known fact that some parts of the developed world have started using products from such research. It is also a known fact that Nigeria and Africa, in general, are endowed with natural resources in which micro and microalgae are among. So, I decided to use these untapped natural resources for the production of biodiesel since we have them abundant in our water bodies.
What materials are required to make this, and how assessible are they?
The major organism needed is microalgae, which are readily available and accessible in our waters. In addition to that, we need reagents and equipment which are, at this level of production, not too expensive.
Are your research findings published, if not, when do you intend to publish?
This research finding has not been published but will be published very soon, but other researches done by me or in collaboration with other colleagues have been published. Some new organisms were also identified, for instance, Discotella oyannensis, which was discovered from a sample collected at Oyan dam and named after the dam. There is also Paraphysomonas nigeriensis, which was named after the country of origin.
What impact do you think the discovery is going to have on the economy, especially with Nigeria’s quest for alternative sources of energy?
One of the impacts will be in the cleaning of the environment by reducing the carbon dioxide in the environment (one of the greenhouse gases) because these organisms make use of carbon dioxide for the process of photosynthesis and then release oxygen to the environment for animals and human respiration, and other processes that require oxygen.
Another impact from the one stated is that, if the environment is clean, there probably will be less case of diseases which then reduces the number of time people will visit the hospital, then the productive hours will increase, which will positively affect productivity and this will probably affect the economy on the long run. The cumulative impact will be enormous and all will benefit from it.
A lot of Nigerians are opting for off-grid power in the wake of the failures of the current electricity companies, how do you see this discovery changing the game?
As you rightly said, many Nigerians are opting for off-grid power, but the fact remains that not all Nigerians (considering our population and diversity) can opt for that power option especially at this time because of the cost implication. The production of biodiesel (from algae or other plants) in Nigeria is still in its infancy.
The report of this research clearly showed that in future, Nigerians will have options for generating electricity either through sun, water, gas, wastes, microalgae or higher plants. So my expectation is that corporate institutions and the federal government will invest in it by way of sponsoring this research, because of the immense benefits we are going to derive from using it.
What do you think of the acceptance, can this be easily replicated in homes?
The acceptance may not be encouraging at this time, probably because of human nature and attitude to a new discovery, but I am sure that in future – which is here now – biodiesel from algae will be one of those measures that will be used in cleaning our environment of some of the greenhouse gases.
It cannot be easily replicated at home because some of the reagents are to be used under strict monitoring for safety.
What is the next phase of action?
The next line of action will be to publish the results in a reputable academic journal and work on more strains of microalgae with high lipids content.
Who are the industrial and institutional entities you think might benefit from your work?
There are many. As much as they make use of fossil fuels, this is an alternative that is better and environment-friendly. With the quantity produced now, because of the unavailability of funds, those in homes and rural areas will probably be the one for now. For instance, the biodiesel produced was used to start and run a vulcanizer machine, but it can be expanded to accommodate more when been funded.
When you say that the procedure is cheap; what does that entail, or is this in comparison with other energy sources?
There are many procedures that can be used for the production of biodiesel from microalgae but the one used was cost-effective. Remember I said the organisms are abundant in our water. We don’t need money to buy the major organism needed but we will need money for culturing (industrial effluent rich in nutrient can also be used for growing these organisms). The method used was cost-effective.
What do you think this portends for the prospect of clean energy in Nigeria?
For the prospect of clean energy in Nigeria, this research report clearly showed that we have resources to make our environment clean. It only behoves us to do the needful by promoting and support research findings of this nature and be proactive. The future is green with biodiesel from microalgae. ✚
Onyewuchi is a co-editor at The Question Marker.