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ABU Convocation Series: Technological Impacts and Opportunities IV – Breakthrough with Prof. MK Othman


The contributions of the three prominent ABU Agricultural Research Institutes (IAR, NAPRI and NAERLS) to the university’s technological impacts on the agriculture were highlighted in the last two parts of this article. Recently (19 and 20/1/2018), the University played host to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh who toured the three Institutes on a 2-day working visit.
The Minister was shown the achievements recorded by the three Institutes since their establishments. IAR showed a number of different seed varieties, which were released. They included 54 varieties of maize, 48 varieties of sorghum, 17 cowpea, 13 cotton and four sunflower varieties among others. NAPRI presented livestock production technologies while NAERLS reported significant achievement in advancing the frontiers agricultural extension services through the use of ICT.
The minister expressed satisfaction and saluted the courage and efforts of the Institutes toward making Nigeria proud in the area of agriculture. Earlier, the Minister launched the donation of 370 motorcycles to extension agents in the State’s Agricultural Development Programmes in all the 36 states of the federation and FCT. The donation by the Federal Government was aimed at re-engineering extension service delivery in the country.
So far, much has been said about ABU’s breakthroughs in Agriculture. Although, it is generally accepted among the academia in Africa and beyond that ABU is a pacesetter in the field of agricultural research and innovations, however, the university has also performed excellently in other areas. Engineering is one of such areas. Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU) had made a giant stride in the areas of automobile engineering by producing two Marathon cars namely ‘Abufeng’ and ‘Abucar II’.
The block bursting ‘Abucar II’ participated in the Road Show, organized by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, Nigeria in Lagos in March 2015 and came out top bypassing all the technical tests. The tests included safety, ergonomics, energy efficient, body and interior design as well as overall weight.
The special innovations in ‘Abucar II’ range from a Rear-View Camera System, a Soft-Touch gear selection system and a Rain Sensitive Wiper System. Over a relatively short time, the university was able to improve the design of Abucar II and thus, produced Zazzau III, an energy efficient car. Zazzau III participated in the Shell African Eco-Marathon Championship in South Africa in 2016.
The competition was hosted by School of Electrical Engineering, University of Johannesburg and took place at the Zwartkops Raceway with twelve participating teams. ABU Team won the Team Award for perseverance and a 3rd place award for the efficiency of engine design.
Image result for school of electrical engineering ABU ZARIA
Another ABU’s achievement in engineering is the development of ABU Research Mini-Refinery. This project was initiated by the Department of Chemical Engineering in 2001/2002 Academic Season but couldn’t continue due to a paucity of funds. In 2011, Prof. Mohammed Dabo dusted the proposal, reviewed and forwarded it to the University Management for funding.
Through a combination of TETFund grant and the university’s support over a period of five years the Mini – Refinery project became a reality. Today, the refinery has a capacity of refining one barrel per day with good refining qualities of the Petroleum products comparable with conventional refineries worldwide.
Still in the field of engineering, a 15KW Solar Upgrades System was developed. The project was commissioned in February 2015. This is a power system that is completely driven by solar panels and independent of the national grid. It powers all lecture theatres, classroom, libraries, and offices.
The idea for the project came from ABU graduate and staff, Dr. Tajudeen Humble Sikiru, who took his PhD from Tswane University Centre for Renewable Energy and Power system, South Africa. The project provides manpower training for undergraduate and postgraduate students.
A local capacity was built in, especially the postgraduate researchers who participated in the project. The students and staff of the Faculty of Engineering of the University did all the installations. So, those who did not have the first-hand experience on solar energy got the opportunity to participate and acquire such knowledge and experience.
Still in engineering, ABU recorded yet another success story; the development of Zeolite Catalyst from Kankara Kaolin. Zeolite, a technical name of a solid mineral coined by Swedish geologist Axel Cronstedt (1722-1765).  Zeolites are solids, three – dimensional crystal structure made up of molecules of aluminum, oxygen, silicon and sodium with water molecules trapped between them.
Zeolites are useful in pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries. They are used in catalytic crackers to break large hydrocarbon molecules into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, waxes and all kinds of other petroleum products. The many pores in a Zeolite structure are like tiny test tubes where atoms and molecules become trapped and chemical reactions readily take place. Like all catalysts, Zeolites are reusable over and over again.
In Nigeria, the Zeolite catalysts are commonly used in the petroleum refining and petrochemical industry for a variety of applications, ranging from catalytic cracking of heavy fuels to isomerization and aromatization of petrochemical feedstock. Zeolite Y was first synthesized in the sixties and introduced to the fluid catalytic cracking of heavy fuels in the seventies. At that time, the zeolite Y was produced by partial de-alumination of kaolin. Currently, higher quality zeolite Y is produced either by incorporation method from high purity chemicals or by the patented Engelhard method from kaolin and high purity chemicals.
The Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) Professorial Chair in Chemical Engineering at Ahmadu Belo University, Zaria Prof. Abdulkarim S. Ahmed was able to develop new process routes through which high-quality zeolites (zeolite Y and ZSM-5) were produced.  His work was a result of many years of quality research work with his team of researchers.
The work involves the production of zeolite Y and ZSM-5 from kaolin massively available in Kankara town of Katsina State, Nigeria. The ZSM-5 prepared also had shorter crystallization time of 4 days when compared to 7 days for conventional methods. This is certainly an outstanding performance. The zeolites were blended and compounded into catalysts and tested both within and outside the country. The characterization and performance tests carried out revealed that a blend of the two catalysts prepared locally outperformed the commercial catalyst presently used at Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company.
Pilot plant units have been designed and fabricated to produce the catalysts. The units were commissioned on 26th August 2015. Development studies were continued at the plant to improve the qualities of the products to those achieved at the bench scale. Already, Nigerian Patent Office, a body responsible for granting patents had granted a patent to the university for this giant feat.
This development has many positive implications for Nigeria in general and for Kankara town, Katsina State and the environs in particular, in terms of employment generation, revenue generation and conservation of foreign exchange earnings. The drive to increase the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) along the development and application of our natural mineral resources has over the years led to the intensification of national research efforts with the aim of adding value to the country’s vast mineral deposits.
One of such minerals that have received attention is kaolin with an estimated over 3 billion metric tons deposits according to the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) and the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development (2003). In addition to zeolite catalyst production, kaolin has other applications in alum, alumina and ceramic production and as filler in paper and plastics, and as adsorbents for heavy metals, to mention a few
Kankara kaolin has been reported to be one of the best China clays in the country. It is presently mined on a small scale by local miners for sale to non-manufacturing users. A pharmaceutical grade kaolin beneficiation plant established in the town is yet to take off. This research work on kaolin is a golden opportunity for the Federal and Katsina state governments to support the exploitation and utilization of kaolin and other natural resources for economic diversification in the state.
In conclusion, ABU has demonstrated its capabilities in research and innovations with unquantifiable technological impacts to the Nigerian society and beyond. Yet, the university has not reached its zenith, more need to be done by the university and the society at large. The university must exploit the opportunities provided by the vast and highly influential members of its Alumni.
A deliberate and concerted campaign “Time for Payback” has to be mounted to sensitize all those who passed through this citadel of learning. Every alumnus should provide his/her widow’s mite on a continuous basis to raise ABU to a greater height. States and Federal governments have to increase support to covert the research results and innovations achieved by ABU and other research centres for commercialization. The time is now, tomorrow may be late, the world is already a global village and someone somewhere can take advantage at the expense of Nigerian society.    

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