Adesalu: How biodiesel produced from microalgae was used in vulcaniser engine

[Nigeria] Biodiesel production from microalgae is a prominent technology in renewable energy generation. In this interview, Associate Professor in the Department of Botany, University of Lagos, Taofikat Adesalu showcased the result of her research in biodiesel as the institution marked her golden jubilee convocation. She spoke with OYENIRAN APATA.

What is the exhibition about?

The exhibition is part of the activities marking the golden jubilee convocation events of the University. It is meant to showcase various research works and findings by different departments at an auspicious occasion like the 50th convocation is another avenue to showcase the various works.

The exhibition would afford visitors and stakeholders to see areas of partnerships and collaborations with the respective departments.

What are some of the different works on showcase?

Today, we have representatives from different departments including Library that exhibited some selection of research works and music. The research and Innovation Office also presented various works done by researchers and students, Confucius Institute, showcased the Chinese tradition and culture. Other departments showcasing their results are; Marine Sciences, Physiotherapy, Creative Arts, Science and Technology Education and Zoology. Also, the department of Botany also has research findings to showcase. I represent the department and on display is the presentation of production of biodiesel from microalgae.

What is Bio-diesel Production?

Biodiesel production is a process whereby living organisms are used to produce biodiesel through chemical reactions. In this case, microalgae are used to produce biodiesel that can be used to run engines.

With this development, what does Nigeria stands to gain?

The bio-diesel is environment-friendly because the micro-algae that we are using through the process of photosynthesis take up carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases that causes global warming; climate change) from the environment and release oxygen to the environment that you and I use for the process of respiration and other processes that might involve the use of oxygen.

These plants can take more of this carbon dioxide and we will have a cleaner environment and green environment which is part of the Sustainable Development Goals. This work keyed into Goals 6, 7, 13 and 14 which are clean water and Sanitation, affordable and clean energy, Climate Action and Life below water respectively.

How much support have you benefited within and outside the university in this direction?

My understanding as a researcher is that you must have a written proposal to work with and writing a proposal is just a starting point (that is showing interest). On many occasions, I have written proposals in many areas in which this micro-algae can be used not only in bio-diesel. These organisms are also rich in vitamins, protein and can also be processed as a feedstock for ruminant animals and fish. However, support has not been so encouraging but, I am not discouraged and believed that it will attract necessary support from the government and industries. It is my belief that the Federal Government or any corporate organisation will show interest and we will want to invest in it. Nigeria and Africa stand to gain a lot from the outcome of researchers work if given necessary attention and financial support needed to move the country forward.

Talking about running an engine, do you have a prototype engine specifically designed to run on biodiesel?

The University of Lagos does not have a prototype engine for now that I know of, but I am optimistic that we will have very soon. For this work, I had to call on one of the Vulcanizers on campus to allow me to use his vulcanizing machine to test the product. We ran other analysis to be sure the sensitivity of the product is good.

Is the machine still in use after the test on biodiesel?

Yes, the machine is a PMS one. I am glad that the vulcanizer willingly made his pumping machine available and we drained the fuel tanker, replaced its content with the biodiesel (from microalgae) and the engine roared into action. That was the result of the conversion of microalgae to produce biodiesel. We were so excited.

Concerning interface with the industry, how much interest or partnership has the department been able to attract from industries?

We have a Research and Innovation Office at the University and not in the department. With the outcome of this work, the office should be able to start considering partnering and showcasing the product to the industry. I strongly believe that the innovation office will do the needful to showcase us to industries and give professional advice on what to do next.

Obviously, a lot of students must have gone through the department, how has the knowledge gained impacted the world of work and industries generally?

As a phycology, I have supervised many undergraduate and postgraduate students and recently I had a PhD student who has graduated and my colleague in the department now (Capacity building). Presently, I am supervising four PhD students. Microalgae can be used in diverse ways, so my graduate students are working in different areas of applied phycology. Grade oil can also be processed from this organism.

What is your position on genetically modified food products consumption by human beings as many Nigerians are still not comfortable with this development?

When we talk about genetically modified crops, it is impossible not to embrace it because of the rising population. Genetically modified crops imply that the DNA of plants used in agriculture have been modified using genetic engineering methods. It has its own side effects but at the same time, when you are meticulous about what you consume, it will minimise the risk involved. Another aspect of these genetically modified crops is the lack of education or sensitisation about its good, bad and ugly. It will take a long time for Nigerians to accept changes and innovations. The government should sensitize the public and assure people of its safety for consumption. We are in a situation of free markets for all because anything can get into the Nigerian markets.

In varsity ranking, research activities also play an important role. A school of thought has identified research activities as one reason for the poor appearance on the ranking scale. What is your take on this?

I will not subscribe to that school of thought that Nigerian Universities scholars are not doing well as regards the webometrics that you mentioned. We are doing great but not so well in the area of publicity and visibility.

The management of the University of Lagos is now working hard to make our work visible to the governments and industries because it is part of what is being used for rankings. I believe that we have moved past the era of having publications on shelves or pocketed by researchers. Research and Innovation office oversees showcasing of research findings and they are doing well in projecting and marketing the researchers (talking about University of Lagos).

I think researchers should also go further in making their research findings visible and critique by experts by using many of the social media and networking tools.


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