Scientific research is all about improving lives. In Nigeria today and indeed, most parts of Africa, power supply is a big issue and researchers are busy looking for alternatives to carbon-based fuel due to all its shortcomings. So in 2012/13, the quartet of Duro-Aina Adebola, Bello Eniola, Akindele Abiola and Faleke Oluwatoyin – all students of Doregos Private Academy, Ipaja, Lagos, came up with urine-powered generator, they were applauded the world over.
Although people liked the urine-powered generator but they complained of the urine odour so the trio of Oluwatomisin Osibote, Kpakpando Akaeze and Eveshorhema Samuel-Alli, all 14-year-old SS2 students of same school, improved on the work of their predecessors, replacing the urine with waste oil and water to come up with the 2WP Tri-powered generator which won them $6,000 scholarship, a bronze medal and $150 cash at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Los Angeles, USA.
This invention also won them the National Science Fair and Quiz competition held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State with a 76.4 aggregate score. In this chat with Vanguard Learning, the three spoke on the reason for embarking on the project .
THE project: According to Oluwatomisin Osibote, “Our aim was to achieve the goal of creating a cheap and sustainable energy source for homes and businesses which does not release carbon monoxide.”
Kpakpando Akaeze: “The tri-powered generator is like an evolutionary technology from the urine-powered generator made by our seniors.
“The urine-powered generator was created by four girls in this school who thought of how to stop carbon monoxide (CO) from destroying the ecosystem and save lives and also generate free electricity without any obnoxious substances being released. Some people complained about the odour of the urine. Even when we tried to suppress it with chemicals like sodium carbonate or sea shells, the odour was still there so we tried to look for other ways to create a generator that works on waste.”
Fuel from waste oil and water
Continues Akaeze: “Rather than looking for other ways to suppress the urine odour, we came up with the tri-powered generator which can work on waste oil, ionized water or urine. Waste oil is the black oil that is removed from vehicles when they are being serviced. It is processed into butane and propane gases which are then used to power the generator.
“In our quest to get something similar but different from urine, we came up with the idea of using ionized water.
“Since the urine-powered generator was created through the principle of electrolysis, we also used the same principle to create the tri-powered generator. Urine is a metabolic waste from the body while waste oil and ionized water are mechanical wastes from vehicles and other machines. Now, ionized water consists of 96 per cent water, 2 per cent Sodium Tetraoxosulphate (VI) and 2 per cent Sodium Trioxonitrate (V).
We chose those substances because when we were making the ionized water, we tried using sodium chloride (table salt) but because of the presence of chlorine in the salt, it corroded and destroyed the engine and the generator was damaged, so we looked for other salts that would ionize the water. That was how we got the two salts together,” said Akaeze.
On how they had intended getting enough urine to power generators for industrial use, Eveshorhema Samuel-Alli said: “Actually, that was why we had to improve on what our predecessors did. It is much easier to make ionized water using the two salts and water. So this will be much easier for companies that would want to use the generator to produce their own salts and sell to the public and also for household use. They can use their own household urine and if they prefer to use the salts, they could do so too. The ionized water is an alternative to the urine.
Said Osibote: “We were trying to make the urine and ionized water chambers more portable so they can be lifted with one hand. The initial ones we made were really difficult to carry. We went to GE Garage in Ikoyi where we met with some Americans travelling round the world helping countries and teaching them how to use some technologies. Surprisingly, they looked up our project and thought they could help us, so we got some help from them. They made the catalytic and ionized water chambers in circular forms which were placed on a shelf thus making it easier to carry.”
Refilling the urine chamber:
“Many people have been asking how we are going to be refilling the urine-powered generator if it becomes popular. The urine-powered generator is not the same as the fossil fuel generator which can be refilled through a funnel or pipe. At first when our seniors started the urine-powered generator, in creating the urine chamber, they used screwdrivers to open the chamber so if they want to refill the generator, they will need screwdrivers and the time to do all that.
“A parent can leave her children at home and they may not know how to open the chamber so we have created a shelf whereby there will be a pipe connecting the septic tank to the chambers of the urine-powered generator so when people urinate in the urinal, the urine will pass directly to the urine chamber,” said Eveshorhema.
“It will be something like a bowl that will come along with the generator.
Ït will be placed by the side of the toilet and only urine will pass through and the urine processing chamber will suck it in. No water or solid waste will go in there, just urine, said Osibote.
“We had six hours of electricity each from1.83 litres of waste oil and 1.83 litres of ionized water. But for fossil fuel generators, you need about two litres for a maximum of four or five hours of electricity,” said Akaeze.
The young scientists believe that their work will go a long way in helping not only Africa but the world.
Added Osibote: “What it can power depends on the capacity of the generator and the number of litres. We decided to use 1.9 KVA generator because of its portability. We’ve tested it on a refrigerator and it carried it and it was able to carry 1,600 watts. If a larger KVA generator is used, it should be able to carry the whole house.”