In this interview, the Director, Energy and Power, of Cranfield University United Kingdom, Prof Phil Hart gives a broader perspective of oil refinery and suggests strategies and technologies for the government to help find answers to its most pressing issues in the energy and power sectors. DUSTAN AGHEDO presents the excerpts
Take us through some of the researches you have done and how they could help Nigeria answer its most pressing questions on energy?
We have a research group that looks at energy strategy policy, impact of digitization, distribution technologies and microgrids. They answer the questions around whatever we need, when we need it, how we are going to get it there and what does it does- the more economic policy strategic insight- and it is really important that Nigeria figures out that transition. I should point out that the most important thing is the career we want to offer the students after completion of Masters or the PhD programmes.
We have grid that looks at thermal processes and materials, that is, the more traditional fossil fuel-based including the oil and gas, gas turbines and coal. So, any subject development within those areas will become an important asset. And we have to look at all of the renewable technologies- there is researching and trying to innovate within wind solar, concentrated solar power, tidal wave, tidal lagoons, run-of-the-river and some of the tunnels.
We have to look at it at the end, when you have created that energy or the act of creating and using all of that power leads to pollution, climate and environmental problems. Therefore, that final research looks at how to mitigate any negative effects of production or any negative effects from use. So, we are researching actively with PhDs from many countries, everything from what we need to how we fix the problem that we caused and the learner at the end have a mission to engage industries and fix all of these problems in the Nigerian energy sector.
Nigeria’s tertiary institutions carryout projects but most of them are kept in the archives. How has Cranfield projects impacted your nation?
We are working on the technology that would capture as much of carbon dioxide as it comes out as possible and limit the effects on plants because we need to keep down below the two and half degrees. That is an active piece of work that we are doing for multiple companies. On a more traditional side, we are doing some work at the moment on trying to take moisture out of gas fuel pipelines.
Our mission has been to raise the efficiency of those gas turbines so that we can get as much energy out as possible and it’s all about raising the temperature and the effect it is going to have on another or the new materials that need to be developed.
How do you think the Nigerian government can alleviate the problem of power?
First of all, your energy grid, your way of distributing electricity around the country is really weak and there are many cities and huge rural expanse. Trying to grow that grid to everybody is probably the way you would have done it 50 years but certainly not the way you should do it now. The adoption of local renewable energy and local grids is a key way for developing countries to look at their energy infrastructure and we are researching on how Nigeria should do that and the best ways they should do it.
You have to look at what is the strategy from the government, what are the policy instruments that they are putting in place to implement that technology and what technology choices you should make. Leapfrog over what old countries like the UK and the States have done and implement solutions that work for you. The advent of renewables, storage and microgrids allow Nigerians to make a completely different decision to some of the electric infrastructure that have been in countries for hundreds of years.
You don’t need to go direct but figuring out what technology to use, the balance, what works for one particular area is a big question that the government needs to invest in answering before rushing into a solution. I actually have two Nigerian PhD students working for me in the UK at the moment to look exactly into that problem and answering these questions.
In terms of manpower development and maintenance of our turbines, local grids, our biofuel, what system do you advise Nigeria employ to take full advantage of our energy source?
For instance, if Nigeria went into wind energy, you have the choice of whether to build a wind turbine infrastructure in the country that can build turbines locally, you can import materials and turn them into full-fledged structures. There is the manufacturing side that needs to be looked at, there is also the big problem when you have installed them. So, if you have an option, you can buy or you can manufacture, then install the turbines and they would need regular maintenance.
Now, there are some turbines in Nigeria that have been installed that are not working because you don’t have the trained technical staff to maintain and keep them working. You have to buy or build right at the beginning for the capital infrastructure; you must have the local skills level- the technician level, engineer level- to keep that infrastructure operating.
Now that’s for wind, you have the same issues for almost every energy technologies including biofuels, solar, concentrated solar power. So, while the challenges are there, it is also a great way to employ a large number of people whether or not you decide to do the whole thing in Nigeria or buy from outside, otherwise Nigeria will be in the same problem of power interruption because you can’t fix your machinery.
And it should be local resource that maintains those devices, there is no reason to buying the operational maintenance from anywhere else. It should be something the country is more than capable of doing.
For a person looking to sanitise the Nigeria oil industry, what can the varsity offer such student in addressing issues like oil pricing, generating revenue from the oil refinery, other challenges?
Everyone who works closely to oil has come to the realisation that the price it is at now is probably going to be approximately the price it will be going forward in Nigeria. I think everyone was hoping it would bounce back up but it is unlikely to do that unless there is a global economic shock of some sort. But I think the general acceptance is that the price it is at now is the right price, meaning that investments in oil should start to cope because it has been flat for a long time. We would transition away from oil as an electricity production field but it is likely that the excess oil from that will go into chemicals and chemical production.
The degrees that we offer look at how we can get more oil out of the infrastructure that we have including developing pipeline technologies and also the chemical process and engineering side. So if you came to us at the moment and wanting to work in the oil industry, the good news is it is going to be here for decades to come, you are not wasting your time, it is a really good industry to be in. There is going to be trillions of dollars’ worth of investments needed in it because the oil demand will not shrink very fast.
I think the demand is going to be high until at least 2030. The demand is going to stay there, the used profile will move more across the chemicals and it is going to have trillions of dollars’ worth of investments. We can teach you how to operate within that industry and as a stable long term job prospects, I think it is really good.
Large refineries and modular refineries, which is better?
In terms of oil refining, the bigger the installation, the more efficient it is. So if you want to make economic gains, you can, but you should have big refineries that run efficiently that would produce lots of products that you can sell outside. And you should try and internalize as much of that refining as you can and sell high value products out of it. Now to do that demands a lot of investments in high quality infrastructure for refining. Refining is really expensive but you have to be as efficient as you can.
Small refining enterprises will not hit the efficiency over big systems but you have to balance that with investments that you need to do what you need to do and the long term direction for oil which is production of chemicals. If you were to consider a case where smaller refineries were establishing the skill base and the chemical knowledge, the chemical process engineering knowledge of how to take a product and produce raw chemicals out of it, that is all good for Nigeria’s future. Having more chemist, more process engineers that understand how to take that and produce useful products out of it, all of that are very useful. I would leave what you should do for the government to suggest but there are technical benefits, very large, very efficient refineries or smaller specialised refineries.
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