By Ebele Orakpo
Cement-free, low cost, energy efficient houses will soon be made available to Nigerians, thanks to the efforts of a researcher at the University of Lagos.

The importance of research in the development of a nation cannot be overemphasized. Developed nations spend millions of dollars for research and development. The Australian Government invested a record $3 billion in the nation’s premier scientific research agency, the CSIRO, through a new quadrennial funding agreement to operate over four years from 2011.

*Dr. Henry Boyo displaying interlocking bricks made from local materials;at the background is the zero-energy green building under construction

Reports said the agreement will allow the CSIRO to continue to work with industry, government and the research community to build a stronger economy,  healthier society and a cleaner environment.’ Nigerian scientists and researchers are no doubt working hard but there seems to be a disconnect between researchers and industry.

In this chat with Dr Henry Boyo, Senior Lecturer and Head of Hardware Development Laboratory, Dept. of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Lagos, he spoke on why there is a disconnect and what they have done as researchers to solve the perennial housing problem in Lagos and Nigeria in general. Excerpts:

Research and industry:

In industrialised nations, research drives the industries. Based on researches tailored towards meeting local needs, the industries develop solutions to meet the needs.

Speaking on the obvious disconnect between researchers and the industries, Dr Henry Boyo said: “There is obviously a big discontinuity between researchers and the industries because many times there is no relationship between the industrial needs and the research topics carried out in research institutes and the universities.

Most times, there are no guidelines selecting project topics in the universities especially in areas of specialisation, to solve real problems of the industries. In the universities, many of the projects and researches done by the academia are specifically to improve their curriculum vitae because their promotions are based on these publications. On the other hand, the industries have their own share of the blame.

They are investors and as much as they know what their specific problems are, they do not categorise these problems and channel them to the research institutions for proper analysis and tailored solutions. The Nigerian businessman is basically into buying and selling and this concept does not give room for creativity so they enjoy buying finished products or completely knocked-down (CKD) products and just assemble them here without trying to develop a local industry in parallel.

But the biggest business industry is government. Government  creates guidelines for the private sector and then the government itself most of the time, is responsible for awarding contracts to the private sector. They are just after how much they will make out of this business and many times, they find importation a better way of making money than investing in local research. So all these put together, have widened the gap between the industry and researchers.”

Gov. Fashola’s challenge:

At the 8th Annual Lecture of the School of Postgraduate Studies, UNILAG, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) had said: “…one would expect our universities and research institutions to be at the forefront of efforts to solve our perennial problems, eg, the design and construction of affordable housing with locally available materials … development of alternative or renewable energy sources…”

In his reaction, Dr. Boyo said: “Coincidentally, the Governor’s request has been met, with the ongoing zero-energy green building. We have taken a bold step to address the problem and look at methods of using natural materials such as clay, to fabricate interlocking bricks which will reduce the use of cement plaster, thereby bringing down the cost.

Apart from that, the building is also relocatable.

For example, if you built on a temporary site, you can relocate it to a permanent site later. The bricks are arranged like lego and the beautiful thing is that they are load-bearing materials, rigid and can withstand seismic vibrations both inside and outside.

So the fact that you are not using cement in-between the bricks does not mean they are not stable. They lock into each other. The interlocking brick is a relatively new technology and we have advanced the technology so that you can erect your building in as little as two days and can dismantle it within a day.

The building has all the comforts of a normal building. It is low cost because all the materials are locally sourced. It does not take a specialised bricklayer or house builder to erect.”

It’s eco-friendly:

Speaking further on the beauty and uniqueness of the building, Boyo noted that the building is a zero-energy green building. “This means that the building provides its own energy needs from renewable resources such as solar, wind, biogas etc. with little or no carbon emission.

The energy will be used to power normal household utilities such as electric fans, food processors, refrigerators, televisions, radios, etc. The house also incorporates some systems that help to manage the energy efficiently. For instance, if you put on your iron and you don’t shake it for one or two minutes, it goes to sleep and when you hold it again, it starts working.

Then there are motion censors to detect your movements so if you leave your lights on for a while, after 10 – 15 minutes and it does not detect any motion, it goes into low power mode (dims) and if after 30 minutes – one hour and it still does not detect anybody, it switches off or goes to sleep until someone comes in again.

Then there are other controllers to ensure that certain lights come up only in the night. It will not permit you to put it on in the daytime because there is enough light from the windows. The building design is such that you have enough radiation coming from the windows and the roof.

The roof is made of special materials to ensure that the heat from the roof is not transmitted into the building. These are some of the special features of the interlocking zero-energy green building.”

Dr Boyo said that “apart from the land, if you have N1 million, you can think of owning such a house.”

The machines for moulding the bricks are also available. “We have different kinds of press machines for moulding the bricks. We have modified these technologies for our own purposes,” he stated, commending the governor for promising to fund researches that will aid the development of the state.

Disclaimer

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