Prince Ikem Obioma who says he is pioneering the conversion of waste to biogas energy is also gradually getting more people to go into the business. ANGELA NKWO-AKPOLU in Owerri who had a chat with him tells us more
Prince Ikem Obioma who describes himself as an engineer specialising in biogas and renewable energy technology, hails from Okwudor in Njaba Local Government area of Imo State. He is a 2005
graduate of Mass Communication from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT), Enugu in Enugu State
Until January 2020, Obioma was just into the sale of phone accessories and poultry farming. That made him close to the world of internet. He was always surfing from one site to the other. “I use the internet just like other people, to get informed and discover new and better ways of living. But one day, I read about how to convert human waste to generate cooking gas. At first, I dismissed it, but the more I tried to ignore it, the more I research into the topic.”
This, therefore, changed his story as he turned and focused attention to waste to renewable energy. This drove him into making contacts. “Soon, I was able to establish contact with someone in Nairobi, Kenya who was into training. I decided to go learn the Renewable Energy Technology.
Obioma gives another reason why he went into this business. “I chose it because it’s not common in Nigeria, only a few people had bought the idea, because it requires high financial outlay and the kind of materials needed to sustain the business are expensive.”
He continued: “I trained in Bio-gas installation, which is a part of renewable energy where we convert waste to energy. I went through the training in Nairobi, Kenya, October, 2019. I did the training for four months and have started on my own. I am barely 10 months in the practice. I started on my own in January 2020.”
According to Obioma, “there are different aspects of it. We convert organic waste from animals and humans through installation of what we call bio-digester.
Bio-digester is the tank where all the wastes are assembled. From there, the wastes go through processes for about three weeks and become anaerobic, that is absence of air in it. In the process, micro organisms will digest on it. From there, we pipe out the hose to storage, and then to the burner which we use as cooking gas.
He said the technology requires that when using human waste, a bio-digester is constructed. “The bio-digester takes over the conventional septic tank which is even cheaper, eco-friendly, and is odourless. That one doesn’t get filled; you don’t have any business evacuating it. It takes longer time. Its anaerobic, and doesn’t make use of micro organisms, because there is no air. It produces in the absence of oxygen.”
Obioma further describes another process involved in converting waste to energy. “We separate the water flushed out of the septic tank, while the waste goes directly to the bio-digester. What we need as energy is just the human waste. Then we do the connections and the pippings.”
Obioma insisted that bio-digester has a lot of advantages. “It doesn’t contaminate underground water. It is much safer, and doesn’t breed flies and mosquitoes. It is absolutely good,” he said.
Why did he settle for renewable energy? “I set out not to work for anybody. I love to be independent working for myself and contributing my modest quota to the improvement of humanity,” Obioma said.
In constructing the biogas toilet cum burner, Obioma explained that for family use, one must have access to either animal and human wastes, kitchen leftover food, rotten fruits and anything that can decay and be degradable.
“Biogas is produced in the absence of oxygen. When waste is allowed to decay in the absence of oxygen, what you get is biogas. It is a form of gas that comes through mertane gas. The gas can be produced through the use of the bigger plastic tank, which can serve as a form of digester tank. Digester because that is where the waste goes in as your storage tank. We then have biogas storage. The storage has an outlet storage. The outlet is the one that goes to your burner which is a fabricated type that is used all over the world, not the type in the general market,” Obioma said.
Talking about how eco-friendly the system is, he said “ideally for any alternative renewable waste system we produce, we make provision for where the waste is channeled.
“Some of the items used include charcoal majorly, Plaster of Paris (POP) and lime powder. All these items prevent odour, because most times, the chamber is closer to the kitchen. I assure you that you cannot perceive an iota of odour. I must emphasize that it is very harmless.
Apart from cooking, biogas can also be used as power generator. Obioma explains how: “We convert your generator by installing gas compressor by removing the carburetor. Then we wire and connect it which generates electricity. It serves as a form of energy. It actually lasts longer than the fuel generator.
“The waste doesn’t require any contact with soap or detergent, because it will kill them. You remember I said the most critical factor required is micro organisms, so if it is destroyed, it amounts to futility. But tissue paper is okay, because, once together with other wastes, they go into the digester, they decompose and get converted through the help of micro organisms.”
It is not just biogas product only, other bio products are involved. “We have a bio product called bio slurry. When the waste decays and breaks down, the left over is bio slurrys. It can be used to feed livestock. We also have another by-product called liquid fertilizer. This is the water that comes out after the decays. It produces water high in nitrogen. And it is one of the best fertilizers in use in the world, but very costly. It is packaged in containers”.
How can the system be installed?
Obioma said it is preferable to have a new site for installation, as it is easier to do so. “If it’s a new house, we just install and connect. If it’s an old house, we cut off the pooh and do construction. We redesign already existing septic tank to give it the shape we need. We use either a tank for the surface type which uses organic waste. But we use slabs or blocks for the ones we install underground. Just four feet deep, because biogas doesn’t occupy so much space and cheaper to construct, and the maintenance is almost free.”
Obioma said Nigerians are now going for the biogas energy. He said so far, the reception has been encouraging. “I have done jobs in Imo, Anambra, Lagos and Enugu States as well as Abuja, and other places.”
With just him only in the business, Obioma is supposed to be smiling to the banks, however, for him, that is not the case. “I am not particular about making much gain for now, rather I am concerned with getting people to accept it. I simply charge operating costs to cover labour and materials used. The materials alone are very expensive but I know that if people accept it, it will be a huge market soon.”
Mastery of the newfound passion for Obioma has been good so far, as he claimed that no client has complaint of bad product or any work done for a client yet.
However, he said “the challenge people have is lack of waste. When you don’t have access to enough waste, the gas will not be enough, because the quality of waste you have determines the quality of gas generated.
“We encourage our customers to get people to use their toilets. Before we construct it for you, we make sure you can generate enough waste in your toilet. At least, five people can generate the waste that can generate gas for you daily. A complete storage can give you about four hours of gas to cook daily.
On the cost of installation for a family house, he said it depends on the size, adding that tanks determine the price. He puts it at a range from N80,000 to about N150,000 as the cost.