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Can Nigeria Be Self-sufficient In Caustic Soda Production?



Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) is a versatile alkali. Its main uses are in the manufacture of pulp and paper, alumina, soap and detergents, petroleum products and chemical production. Other applications include water treatment, food, textiles, metal processing, mining, glass making and others.

Caustic soda is a basic feedstock in the manufacture of a wide range of chemicals. It is used as an intermediate and a reactant in processes that produce solvents, plastics, synthetic fibres, bleach, adhesives, coatings, herbicides, dyes, inks and pharmaceuticals. It is also used to neutralise acidic waste streams and the scrubbing of acidic components from off-gases.

Other uses include the saponification or conversion of fat, tallow and vegetable oils in soap manufacture, and in the manufacture of surfactants for detergents. It is used in the petroleum and natural gas industries to remove acidic materials from hydrocarbons and off-gases. In the textile sector, it is used in the chemical processing of cotton and the dying of synthetic fibres.

Speaking on the importance of caustic soda in Nigeria’s industrial sector, a materials science expert, Engineer Peter Okwuonu, said in view of its various industrial applications, the global demand for caustic soda was increasing daily.

He said the global caustic soda market was valued at $36 billion in 2018 and it is projected to reach $55.8 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 5.50 per cent from 2019 to 2026, adding the escalating demand across various industries is expected to strengthen the market growth.

“Rising demand for alumina in automobile industry, especially in Asia Pacific is considered to stimulate the market growth.  Also, owing to incessant demand for man-made fibers, the textile industry is expected to emerge as the fastest growing application segment at an estimated CAGR of 4.4 per cent from 2016 to 2024. Textiles are expected to emerge as the leading application surpassing organic chemicals over the forecast period.

“In addition, according to the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) in 2017, the chemical industry added $5.7 trillion contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports 120 million jobs across the globe.  Further in 2017, around $51 billion dollars was invested in research and development.  With the growing chemical sector, it is expected that the demand for caustic soda in manufacturing organic and inorganic chemicals will increase significantly,” he said.

Listing some of the uses of caustic soda in various sectors of the Nigerian economy, Okwuonu said it cuts across various sectors ranging from food, the oil and gas, textile industries, laboratories, pharmaceuticals, paper industries etc.

“Caustic soda is also used in the manufacture of sodium salts, aluminium and detergents. It is applied in pH regulation procedure and organic synthesis. In the petroleum industry, poor quality crude oil can be treated with caustic soda to remove sulfurous impurities. One of the major industrial uses of caustic soda is in the pulping of wood for making paper or regenerated fibers. Along with sodium sulfide, caustic soda is a key component of the white liquor solution used to separate lignin from cellulose fibers in the kraft process. It also plays a key role in several later stages of the process of bleaching of the brown pulp.

“Food uses of caustic soda include washing or chemical peeling of fruits and vegetables, chocolate and cocoa processing. Caustic soda is frequently used as an industrial cleaning agent. It is added to water, heated, and then used to clean process equipment, storage tanks, etc.

“It can dissolve grease, oils, fats and protein-based deposits. It is also used for cleaning waste discharge pipes under sinks and drains in domestic properties. Surfactants can be added to the caustic soda solution in order to stabilize dissolved substances and thus prevent redeposition. A caustic soda soak solution is used as a powerful degreaser on stainless steel and glassware. It is also a common ingredient in oven cleaners.   The chemical is sometimes used during water purification to raise the pH of water supplies. Increased pH makes the water less corrosive to plumbing and reduces the amount of lead, copper and other toxic metals that can dissolve in drinking water.  Apart from these it is used in some cement mix plasticizers. This helps homogenize cement mixes, preventing segregation of sands and cement, decreases the amount of water required in a mix and increases workability of the cement product, be it mortar or concrete.

“Caustic soda is also used to refine raw materials for wood products such as cabinets.  In the paper recycling process, caustic soda is used to separate the ink from the paper fibers allowing the paper fibers to be reused again. It is also used to manufacture rayon, spandex, explosives, epoxy resins, paints, glass and ceramics. It is applied in the textile industry to make dyes, process cotton fabric and in laundering and bleaching, as well as in metal cleaning and processing, oxide coating, electroplating and electrolytic extraction,” he added.

Speaking on Nigeria’s efforts to develop caustic soda production for local utilization and export, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, pointed out that Nigeria has over 180 million tonnes of limestone in various deposits across the country.

He, however, lamented that despite the availability of raw materials in the country, the country imported caustic soda valued at more than N28 billion for use by manufacturing firms and in the oil and gas sectors of the economy, saying the value of imports of commodity group 2815, which consists of caustic soda, potassium hydroxide and peroxides of sodium to Nigeria, totalled $66 million in 2018, contending that sales of commodity group 2815 to Nigeria went up by 50 per cent compared to 2017.

He underscored the need for the situation to change, saying in view of this, the council collaborated with the National Research Institute of Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria, to design and fabricate a 250kg per day caustic soda production plant which has been fabricated, installed and test run.

“While a number of investors have shown interest in investing in caustic soda production locally, our plan is to ensure the establishment of this project in nearly all the states of the federation where limestone is available in commercial quantities.  Some of the states include Cross River and Ebonyi; and also, in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Sokoto, Bayelsa, Borno, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Ondo, and Ogun where limestone has been reported to occur in commercial quantities.

“In these states, we have put in place plans to promote investment in caustic soda production in collaboration with the state governments. This is important as the project will provide avenue for Nigeria to earn foreign exchange from exportation of caustic soda while at the same time satisfying local demand,” he added.