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Breakthroughs in biodesiel, charcoal production

By Chukwuma Muanya   |   11 May 2017   |   3:45 am

The valuable oil obtained from the kernel of the African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis was used for the production of biodiesel fuel (BDF).

• Researchers use coconut, bamboo for water purification
• Scientists develop drugs, vaccines for asthma cure.

Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe of the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academics and Research of the University of Lagos. The new Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) told The Guardian that his research team has made breakthroughs in development of Nigeria’s local and technical capability for efficient production of high grade activated carbon (charcoal) using coconut parts and bamboo segments for water purification, production of biodiesel fuel from palm kernel oil, drugs and vaccines for asthma cure as well as barcoding of wild life, among others. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes. Excerpts:

Nigeria joined the rest of the world on Tuesday May 2, 2017 to mark World Asthma Day. Your team has just made some breakthrough in asthma research. What was it all about? What is the relevance of the study towards providing ‘cure’ or rather solutions to asthma burden?
OUR research studied aero-pollens in all the six geopolitical zone of Nigeria and used this record to determine if any of the retrieved pollen is allergenic and its relationship to incidence of asthma recorded in the country during the period of study. The study is relevant towards proving cure to asthma as proteins can be extracted from the identified allergenic pollens and this can be further processed to produce drugs/vaccines in the cure of pollen induced asthma in patients.

As a professor of botany, what is the relevance of the subject to the development of medicinal plants and crude oil remediation? What are the fallouts?
Botany is a discipline that studies plants and plants products and part of the subject areas covered include ethnobotany and environmental botany. So, as an ethnobotanist, one can look into the medicinal properties of various parts of the plant and use this information either in drug development of development of products that can be use in therapeutics. Environmental botany on the other hand considers the importance of plants in the environment and the interaction that exist between plants and the environment hence, one can easily look at and identify plants that has the ability to clean up pollution in the environment including bryophytes, algae as well as other higher plants and use these in remediation of crude oil as well as other pollutants in the environment.

Herbal medicine has been touted as the future of medicine. What is your take on this?
Absolutely, health comes from nature right from the beginning of time when God created the earth and gave plants to mankind for food and medicine. Also, most of the drugs produced today have plant-based origin so if we go back to the roots then we can find the route to the future.

You have been involved in development of Nigeria’s local and technical capability for an efficient production of high-grade activated carbon? Explain?
Hardly can we find good quality activated carbon in the Nigerian market. Moreover, Nigeria imports large quantities at very high cost to enhance the purification of water and removing low levels part per billion ranges of pollutants. The quality of activated carbon is determined by the qualities of raw materials and the activation conditions during production. In this work the target is to develop our nation’s local and technical capability for an efficient production of high-grade activated carbon. We have also explored for suitable materials among coconut parts and bamboo segment, to produce good quality activated carbon. To achieve these goals, we have designed and fabricated a high temperature anaerobic electric furnace (up to 1200 degree Celsius) to facilitate the production of high quality activated carbon with high regeneration efficiency and low ash content. Activated carbon produced was used for water purification, decolorizing and removal of bad odour. Experimental result show that 1000g coconut shell and 1000g bamboo carbonized at a temperature of 900 degree Celsius for three hours when activated using steam resulted in 215g and 187g of activated carbon respectively. The result of the comparism in terms of the ratio of activated carbon obtained to the weight of the material before carbonization indicates that both materials can produce high quality activated carbon at low cost

You have been involved in production of biodiesel fuel from palm kernel oil using hetero-sonic agitation. Explain?
The valuable oil obtained from the kernel of the African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis was used for the production of biodiesel fuel (BDF). A prototype production plant based on hetero-sonic agitation was designed, fabricated and tested in the Hardware Development Laboratory. The produced plant was used to investigate the effect of hetero-sonic mixing on the methanolysis of palm kernel oil (PKO) in comparison to its absence in the conventional catalysis method. The susceptibility of commercial stocks of PKO to mesophilic and thermophilic fungi was investigated at the Molecular Systematic Laboratory. Its effect on the breakdown of PKO into free fatty acid (FFA) resulting into unpredictable quality of produced BDF was also investigated. Results showed that; Acoustic cavitations condition created by hetero-sonic agitation produced high speed mixing and mass transfer between methanol and oil. The net effect is a higher yield of biodiesel fuel within a shorter time frame. It proved to reduce the transesterification time. Rancidity of Palm kernel oil is facilitated by moisture, light exposure and atmospheric oxygen resulting to changes in odour and pH. Palm kernel oil should have an acid value of at most 3.0, which indicates an excessively high content of free fatty acids. Depending on the biodegradation conditions, a pH change of 5+10% was observed on a three-month average storage at the University of Lagos. This project provides the clue for sustainable and economic growth of the Nigerian energy sector, which requires; a stock pile preservation of raw materials (PKO) and fast production plant (hetero-sonic mixer) to meet potential market quality and demands.
You are a three-time co-recipient of the Faculty of Science Best researcher? Yes, this was in recognition of work done on development of Nigeria’s local and technical capability for an efficient production of high grade activated carbon, production of biodiesel fuel from palm kernel oil using hetero-sonic agitation as well as barcoding of wild life with my research partners like Dr. Henry Boyo, Dr. Tope Onuminya, Prof. Soneye among others.

As Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics UNILAG, what are the challenges to science education? What are your recommendations?
The major challenges to science education in Nigeria include research funding as well as inadequate infrastructure. The amount of funds allocated to education in Nigeria is very meagre and this is a major limiting factor in the output of educational institutions in the country as the funds is barely enough to run the institution lest of providing support to researchers to do research. Infrastructures such as electricity, water, as well as equipment are also limiting hence create a major setback in science education and research.

The Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) has just awarded you a Fellow of the Academy. What is your take on the Academy, the award and the relevance to promotion of science and technology development?
The Nigerian Academy of Science is one of the prestigious scientific bodies in the nation and has been in the business of ensuring that scientific standards are maintained and upheld at the highest level possible. The award has come at this time as a testimony to the contributions made to science and technology development in Nigeria by the various awardees. This is expected to encourage further groundbreaking researches and innovations by scientist across the nation.

What are your recommendations on how best to develop science and technology as well as the education sector in Nigeria?
For any nation to develop, the answer lies in developing science and technology as well as the education sectors particularly the higher institutions of learning by so doing, the institutions would be able to identify problems in the society and provide meaningful solutions to them using science and technology leading to the development of the society and the nation at large. So, I will suggest that government should provide adequate support both financially and otherwise to the education sector so as to enhance the development of the economy.

Your area of research includes molecular plant taxonomy/biosystematics, cytogenetics, ethnobotany, paleobotany and ecological conservation. What is their relevance in today’s world?
Molecular plant taxonomy/biosystematics is of relevance in todays world as it helps us to understand the genetic composition of plants and we can use such information in plant monitoring, control of trans-border transportation of such plants as well as manipulation of the genes for improved food production as well as production of resistant varieties of plants. Biosystematics also gives us a good idea of what we have in terms of plant diversity and this helps in developing conservation strategies for plants that might be under threat of extinction.

Cytogenetics helps us to understand the activities of the Deoxy riboNuclei Acid (DNA)/genetic material within the cell and this could be useful for development of drugs in control of resistance parasites amongst other things. Ethnobotany is important in drug development and understanding the medicinal uses of plants. Paleobotany studies fossil plants and this can be particularly useful in the oil sector for discovery of oil rigs. Ecological conservation is important in ensuring that we have a sustainable environment especially when it comes to usage of plants and plant products.

Again, some of your publications have shown the use of pollen and spores as sources of honey bees, in control of allergies and in determination of climate change and changes in land cover over the years. Please explain further especially in relation to climate change?
Pollens have been known to be of importance in understanding changes that go on in the environment as they indicate past climate of an area and are useful tools in projecting what future climate of an area would be due to their conserved exine structure. It is this knowledge that we employed in studying the Lagos coastal environment and we have found that indeed a lot of the mangrove vegetation present in the time past are no longer in existence because of industrial development all around Lagos state hence there is a need to conserve the remnants in order to forestall further loss of such environments.

You are currently involved in the molecular study of arid plants and orchids in Nigeria?
Essentially, we thought of the effect of desertification as seen in the northern part of the country and thought to have a repository for the plants contained therein so we embarked on a field collection in the arid/semi arid zones in Nigeria up to the chad basin national park and extracted DNA samples form the plant materials all of which have been deposited at the DNA bank in the University of Lagos as well as University of Reading United Kingdom (UK). Further analysis of data obtained is still being done. In like manner, orchid samples were explored due to the fact that the last record was done over 50 years ago. And in our exploration so far, three new records of orchid have been made and further work is being done on the samples at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.

You have raised several millions of naira for research projects from the British Council, University of Lagos, Agriculture Research Council and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund)?
This has largely been a function of team effort with members of my research team and we look forward to winning more research grants in the nearest future as we continue to look out for opportunities and submit proposals to granting bodies as calls are made for such. But everything is based on team work. In my team we have Prof. Soneye, Dr. Fasona, Dr. Adekanmbi, Dr. Ogunkanmi. Even my Ph.D students like Mr. Nodza, Mr. Ajikah, and Miss Oshingboye just to mention few

You are presently the President of the Botanical Society of Nigeria (BOSON). How far with the society?
The society is moving forward. We are introducing new ICT into what we do. Our website is a life. We have a conference in July at Usmandan Fodio University, Sokoto. We are planning to plant 200,000 seedlings to celebrate the Association. This is new and it the first time

Are there other things you want me to know?
Just like the motto of my secondary school CMS GRAMMAR school which I am 77/79 set Nisi Dominus Frustra, UNLESS THE LORD BUILD. I give glory to God for leading me aright. My God has been good to me. Also, I want to thank the Vice Chancellor Prof. Rahaman Bello for supporting me concerning my research work. My family has been wonderful. My Father in the Lord Pastor Adeboye is appreciated for his prayer. I want to thank the Ijebu Professional Foundation for given me a merit award. To God be all the Glory

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