Harnessing Nigeria’s untapped enormous energy from waste potential

By Okafor Akachukwu 29/03/2017


I recall an encounter on 23rd December 2011 in Westfield, London with a sales man of some luxury skincare products who urged me to buy a set of his products (less than 75ml) for over £1,000. Not only was it unaffordable at the time, but what he told me next, which could be interpreted as “this product is not for you.” Thinking that I was a Londoner, he said, “You know London is polluted, you need this product.” I smiled, wondering what Lagos will be called, if London is polluted and whether this product will be potent in Lagos state. Since my flight to Lagos was the next day, I smiled to the sales man and said, “see you tomorrow.” I hardly look forward to being in Lagos. The traffic, the pollution – fumes from cars, dirt and floods have kept me away from the city which once I called home. The air pollution in Lagos is still yet to lessen, obviously due to increased use of dirty fuel from Europe as a recent BBC article* reported. This story also follows from a report in September 2016 by Public Eye, a Switzerland based environmental and economic group, accusing most Swiss based commodity traders of exploiting weak regulations to export toxic diesel and gasoline laden with sulphur, 200 times more than the limit accepted in Europe, into West Africa including Nigeria. While government has given importers a six-month grace period to comply with new regulations, I am looking forward to action that will enhance the enforcement of our environmental laws on waste management and new regulations and policies to curb the growing pollution from waste in our cities and utilize them for power generation purposes.

Recently it was reported that Sweden has run out of waste to burn for electricity generation and had to rely on imports from the United Kingdom and other countries to keep the plants running. The question is why can’t Nigeria turn the waste that are taking over its roads, fields and street corners into energy – electricity and heat for industrial use? The key answers are: 1.) Lack of right policies – leaders and policy makers do not have adequate knowledge on the potential in waste management which could lead to policy enforcement, revising regulations and formulation of new ones, if necessary. 2.) Lack of institutional capacity to effectively engage with international mechanisms on sound environmental management 3.) Wrong sociocultural interpretations and understanding of waste and waste management.

I worked on a policy proposal that would help improve the efficiency of UK’s energy from waste sector to comply with European Union Waste Directives, in my graduate programme. What I realised was that everything starts with and must continue with policy, directives, legislations, rules and definitions, even of the simplest of things. What this means is that the government has to define in detail what waste is and what waste is not; how best to manage waste based on categorizations or hierarchy for different sections of the economy – home, office, hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing and so on. In a nutshell, the waste hierarchy starts from: waste prevention, reuse, waste recycle/compost, waste recovery (to generate electricity and heat) and finally waste disposal if the waste cannot be managed at any of the points in this hierarchy. Interestingly, waste prevention and reuse are entirely dependent on individuals to adopt or enforce based on their knowledge. This knowledge can be learned, depending on sociocultural understanding and effective practice of waste disposal. These are areas where policies are very helpful.

For instance, the waste – slurry and manure generated in agricultural farms (pigs, cows, poultry) can be turned biogas to sustainably power facilities in the farm and households around the farm facility. That is part of how Feldhiem, a small German town known for its energy independence and self-sufficiency on renewable energy (which the Senate President recently visited) generates its electricity. Also, other agricultural biomass waste products which have high calorific value can be used as fuel in biomass gasifiers to generate electricity and heat. While there are funds for Nigeria to harness energy potentials in waste, records indicate that over 40% of agricultural waste in Nigeria are not converted into useful purposes. Nigeria is lagging in accessing CDM funds compared to other African countries and there is need for the use of these funds in Nigeria. Nigeria with 4.9% is trailing behind Brazil – South Africa – 27.6%, Kenya – 8.9%, Uganda – 8.1%, Morocco 7.3% in the number of CDM projects registered in the continent. This is more of a wide institutional lack of capacity which government needs to address. My observations from studying Nigeria’s use of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) funds revealed that out of 16 submitted projects, 6 located in Lagos state, 5 in Delta state, 1 each for Niger and Ogun, only 11 were registered with Delta having 4 registered projects, Lagos had 2 registered projects, the other 4 projects were rejected, with terminated validation or were negative. Of all the registered projects only one was a landfill gas project for Ikorodu (Lagos) composting facility which was a waste to energy project. Why did other highly populated states with waste management challenges not develop CDM waste management projects? How come all projects located in Delta state were registered after submission and validation while only 2 out of 6 projects located in Lagos were registered? What is different from the projects proposed to be sited in Delta state and Lagos state? What were the levels organizational and institutional partnership between the state government agencies and the project developers? These are a few questions that can help in the development of bankable and viable CDM and climate funded projects especially in waste management/low carbon energy generation in Nigeria. Nigeria would have gotten more landfill gas projects registered if state governments were interested and sought partnership with parties to the Kyoto protocol that are eligible to sponsor these projects.

In 2014, I stumbled on an ongoing €2.2M research work called Dirtpol. Dirtpol was an interdisciplinary and international research to understand the cultural politics of dirt in Africa from 1880 – Present, led by researchers at the University of Sussex and partners at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and Kenyatta University, Nairobi. One of the research themes involved a “comparative examination of the cultures and economies of recycling, consumption and waste disposal.” The findings of this research would help to understand how we perceive waste, value and manage waste which is socio-culturally ingrained depending on different cultures, environment, experience and practice. In essence, research work like this could help government and private businesses involved in waste business to develop effective waste handling and disposal programs that would change poor cultural behaviour with waste. This will mean that more people will get to use dustbins, separate waste into different forms – organic, degradable and undegradable and turn waste to wealth. This is when waste can effectively be collected, recycled or processed for energy and heat generated purposes. For those that find their way to landfills, the methane gas can be harnessed for electricity generation purposes. Incidentally the methane that many landfills in Nigeria generate are yet to be harnessed due to low capacity of Nigeria’s institutions to engage with international mechanisms and programs that will help harness our waste to energy potentials.

Solid waste pollution and lack of action of governments and private businesses to address the challenges can be quelled when there is a realization of the enormous potential to generate electricity and heat from waste in Nigeria. The value chain benefits of recycling and proper waste management to employment and wealth creation is significant and who knows we may join Sweden as a waste importing nation if we realize the wasting potential in waste.


Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com


Recurring Energy issues and developing a Strategic Niche Management Approach for the energy sector

By Okafor Akachukwu |05/01/2017

It is not news any longer that President Buhari presented the 2017 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly. What you may not have heard or which will come as a surprise if you have is the sum of N65 billion appropriated for the presidential amnesty programme. This is quite a huge sum, and no doubt every failing whether on the part of government, Niger Delta people or the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta since 1956 comes with real life consequences. The huge loss in oil revenue and power outages this year was mostly attributed to the activities of militants in the Delta. In this year also, government launched the Ogoni Clean-up which is estimated to cost USD 1 billion and 30 years to fully complete, however a lot of places in the Delta and oil producing areas remain to be cleaned up.

With the past events in the region since the turn of democracy in 1999 till date, we are yet to learn our lessons as a country. We seem to be more concerned about meeting our economic and financial needs without thought to the more costly socioeconomic and environmental consequences that normally follow. Where am I going with this? As I have always written, The Federal Government of Nigeria aims to meet 30% of its energy needs by 2030 from coal. What I haven’t said in my writings is that the coal to be used for this proposed generation would not be imported from abroad; they will be mined in Nigeria. If we do not know, coal mining and burning is highly environmentally – air, water, soil polluting. Particulates and chemicals that are released into the environment include Sulphur dioxide, Nitrogen oxides, Hydrogen Chloride, Hydrogen Fluoride, Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Dioxin, Chromium, which are all known to be very toxic. A preamble of the devastating effects of coal mining is already being set in Okobo and Itobe communities of Kogi State. But we seem to enjoy going through the cycle of environmental, security, and socioeconomic challenges with managing our natural resources.

In the last edition (Aug-Dec, 2016; Vol.2 No. 3) of Powerwatch, a quarterly publication of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr Abdulsalam Yusuf, an editorial board member of the publication did a good job of highlighting the energy potentials of coal power for Nigeria and the challenges it faces with securing financing – which are all sector wide established facts. However, Dr Yusuf failed to mention that coal power comes at huge costs. I would have ignored this, but coming from an official publication of the sector utmost regulator, it should be an issue of grave concern to stakeholders and the general public who will get to face and bear these consequences when they finally come. In my November 30 publication titled “The impatience with grid electricity and our energy future”, I asked some questions which should form the basis our debate and dialogue on the coal power. “…2.) How prepared are our regulatory agencies especially the environmental agencies to ensure that the operations of this sector [coal power] comply with world best practices. 3.) What are the assurances that coal mining in host communities around the country will be protected from the toxic environmental [hazards] – air, water, soil pollution [which are] evident with coal mining, as is already the case in Okobo and Itobe communities in Kogi State. 4.) How prepared are the government and mining companies to solve the socio-economic, health challenges and possibly social unrest that may arise from the devastation in these communities?” As things are currently, the answers to questions 2 and 3 are obvious; the Niger Delta experience is a case study. The answer(s) to question 4 is relative considering the strategy that government, mining and coal power companies may decide to solve these problems when they arise. But before they do, this debate on coal power is due for an extensive public debate, and importantly a federal legislative hearing, so that the facts on coal power can be presented by all sides of the divide. We hope to start pushing for these policy making processes in the coming year. Nigeria can’t afford to continue taking chances with its future when there are many better and proven alternatives. I will not be weary of writing on these issues or demanding for a robust sector public dialogue until a clear and holistic path of our relationship with coal is established.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the immediate past Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo and his engineering team invented an innovative fuel-efficient power generation system named ‘power-seed web machine’ which was presented to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu during a courtesy visit.  Prof Nebo stated that the machine is built to utilize only 20% of the amount of fuel needed by power generating systems to generate a kilowatt hour. Of interest to me is that Prof. Nebo said that the machine which has been test run would soon be deployed to select tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria to help meet their energy needs for one year before its commercialisation. This is a positive energy sector engineering – scientific and technological development which Dr Onu acknowledged and further pledged government’s support in protecting the invention and copyright abuse. Government’s support should not be limited to protecting the invention but also providing the enabling environment for inventions such as this to grow, successfully reach commercialization, wide adoption and diffusion. As I stated in a previous article (December 14 publication) titled “Scientific, technological and innovation capabilities required for an efficient energy system”, I listed amongst others that “education policy that aligns with development plans, foresight, right system regulation, technological spaces/platforms for interaction on various levels, use of demand stimuli – procurement to push for supply improvements and innovation, increasing capacity to absorb and use knowledge, building regional and sectoral systems of innovation, stimulating entrepreneurship and incubators” are required for Nigeria’s energy sector to become efficient.

The proposed plan by Prof. Nebo to deploy the fuel-efficient machines to select tertiary educational institutions is a good step in the right direction. However, this should not end with deployments to serve the institutions. Careful steps should be taken in collaboration with the team, institutions, and ministries of education, science and technology, power, petroleum resources to set up structures to engage in more in-depth and broad research and development on these technology and other related technologies, and capabilities to absorb and use knowledge across other sectors and ultimately develop a strategic niche management approach that will lead to a successful diffusion of this machine and other innovative sustainable technologies. I believe that the technical experts and administrators at these ministries understand these issues and will take the opportunity.

Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and  Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Twitter: @akachukwu Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com