Cherry news of a major breakthrough in the local refining of heavy crude using wholly locally sourced raw materials has come from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.
A statement from Head and External Relations of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Kalu Otisi, quoted ABU’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, as saying that the feat was the outcome of a four-year intensive research on the production of zeolite catalyst using clay by a team of researchers led by the chair holder of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) Endowment in Chemical Engineering at the University, Prof. Abdulkarim Ahmed.
Zeolite catalyst is an essential additive in the conversion and refining process of heavy gas oil into usable gasoline and petrochemical products in refineries.
Mustapha revealed this development at the 2014 Yearly Lecture of the PTDF Professorial Chair in Chemical Engineering.
He said the design and fabrication of the pilot plants for the production of Zeolite Catalyst has reached advanced stage with a view to commissioning a prototype refinery in November this year.
The Executive Secretary, PTDF, Dr. Oluwole Oluleye, commended Ahmed for his high sense of commitment to actualising the research goals for which the university was endowed. He described the outcome as fundamental to the sourcing of local raw materials like kaolin in producing Zeolite Catalyst, with the economic implication of reducing the huge capital flight on the importation of the raw materials for use in local refineries.
He added that in 2011, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) refineries imported Zeolite Catalyst worth 12 million dollars, saying: “The application of novel techniques in Zeolite Catalyst production will not only offer huge opportunities for entrepreneurial development of sustainable refinery and petrochemical products but would also create job opportunities for Nigerians. PTDF has keen interest on enhancing refinery and petrochemical operations in Nigeria as seen by the various research programmes we are funding.”
Also, Ahmed explained that the characterisation tests conducted abroad on the locally-produced Zeolite Catalyst using Kaoline obtained from Kankara in Katsina State indicate a 75 per cent viability in outperforming the commercial catalyst currently being used by NNPC refineries.
Speaking on the feat with The Guardian yesterday, Ahmed said that the catalyst needed by refineries in the country was developed from local clay and would make the cost of producing petroleum products from crude oil more cheaper and faster.
Ahmed, who is a former Head of Department of Chemical Engineering at ABU, explained that presently, the nation’s refineries have to source for catalyst overseas for the production of petroleum products at a high cost in foreign exchange.
He further remarked: “We have now developed a catalyst locally. Catalyst is what we use in refining crude or raw petroleum.
“If you do a straight run of raw petroleum, you will get a small fraction of gasoline. The entire demand of gasoline worldwide is expensive. The catalyst was got from clay and pure chemicals. I am actually working as the PTDF chair at ABU. So, we have been able to develop this catalyst from our own local clay in Nigeria.”
He added: “When we tested our own catalyst with the imported one being used by the Kaduna Refinery, ours out-performed the foreign one. We presently buy some of the materials from abroad but if we are now producing it in the country, our foreign exchange would be saved and more people will be employed. And from the local catalyst, we will be able to produce other chemicals, all from clay. So, it is going to be an expansion for chemical production. And this will have positive impact on other sectors of the economy.”
Reacting on the development, an industry source said: “I think this discovery of using local raw material for refining purpose has vindicated both the Petroleum Minister and President Goodluck Jonathan that empowering Nigerians to take active role in the hydrocarbon industry is the surest way of getting Nigerian economy out of the woods.