BY EBELE ORAKPO
Dr. Bolade Agboola is an Associate Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Petroleum Chemistry and Engineering, American University of Nigeria. In this chat with Vanguard Learning, Agboola speaks on their work on energy storage devices, alternative energy sources and pipeline corrosion. He advises government to look beyond pipeline vandals as pipeline corrosion is a big problem often overlooked. Excerpts:
Core research areas:
According to Agboola, “One of the core areas of my discipline is electrochemistry and one of the applications is in energy storage and conversion. We are creating energy storage devices like Lithium ion batteries and super capacitors. We are also into corrosion study, waste management and basic crude oil research.”
Poor energy supply:
“Poor energy supply is a threat to Nigeria’s economic growth. Hardly will you see any business that does not rely on regular power supply and of course, on a larger scale when you have good infrastructure in place and you have regular electricity supply, it will attract investors.
Energy is probably number one in terms of the problems militating against socio-economic progress of the nation.
Creating energy storage devices:
“ Most of Nigeria’s over 160 million people are into small and medium scale businesses most of which require constant energy supply; the generators they use rely on petrol and diesel but if we have alternatives like smart batteries or portable energy storage devices like capacitors, when you have power supply, you store energy so in addition, I am developing materials that will be used for batteries like lithium ion battery, super capacitors and fuel cells. We are also looking into alternative energy sources, sustainable energy supply and renewable energy technology. We look at biofuel, biodiesel and bio-kerosene which we can get from waste oil and non-edible seed that will not compete with food supply.
These batteries can store more energy and they will be safe and cost-effective.
Inverters are expensive:
Inverters are expensive and people need energy storage devices that will be cheap enough for Small and Medium Enterprises. We are looking into all these and the approach is to get the components, tune their properties to make them deliver better. That is part of an ongoing research.
We are working on so many materials right now like our natural zeolite , (a multi-purpose material normally sourced from clay) which is relatively cheap. We just tune the properties and use them in all these energy storage devices. There are some others like metals that you can find naturally around you so we work on all these to see how we can make best use of them.
“For example, there are silicon-based materials in the solar panel that have the ability to capture, store and convert solar energy to electrical energy. This ability has to do with some properties of those materials. People are still working to get alternatives. They may still be silicon-based but can be modified in a way or made with something cheaper but at the end of the day, you are not compromising the capability of the material. Same thing is applicable to super batteries and capacitors.
“Whatever you do, when it comes to research, if it is not cost-effective, no matter how good it is, it is still not going to make economic impact so you just have to look at the cost also and you can always do that through scientific knowledge. You look at certain materials that are probably naturally abundant around you so you don’t have to import. Then you see how to tune the properties to meet such demand of such applications based on your scientific knowledge.
Corrosion, a big problem:
“In the oil industry, oil pipeline corrosion is a big problem although these days, people talk a lot about vandals because that’s more like an immediate and obvious problem but if you look at it long-term, corrosion is a major problem. Crude oil has a lot of other constituents that cause corrosion in the inner and outer walls of the pipelines.
These pipelines are buried underground; some of them are on land, some are in the sea in various kinds of environment so depending on the environment, there can also be corrosion on the external wall. In Nigeria, unfortunately, the awareness is low but in developed countries that have a lot of oil industry activities, they take this issue very seriously.
“Vandals break pipes to get oil and leave the pipes damaged, that is a very serious problem and that is what we focus on more, but we should not forget about corrosion which is something that happens gradually and when it becomes escalated, it becomes a very big problem.”
“We have been collaborating with people internationally and locally because the stronger your team, the better the end result. For instance, the Sustainability Office has been engaging with the community in this area of research, giving them a sort of economic empowerment.