By Ebele Orakpo
As the issue of environmental pollution rages and nations are seeking alternative energy sources devoid of carbon emission, Nigeria, as a major oil-exporter, will be hard hit if nothing is done. To this end, Professor James Omoleye of the Department of Chemical Engineering and former Director, Centre for Research, Covenant University, Ota Ogun State, began a series of researches with his team which culminated in the making of an electric automobile and a power bike. In this chat with Vanguard Learning, Omoleye says Nigeria is far ahead of some nations in this area. Excerpts:
For Professor James Omoleye: “Nigeria is an oil-exporting country and today, the green revolution which is trying to promote mobility without atmospheric pollution, is driving the whole world to look for alternative way of transportation and that has led to some research on electric automobile.
“Electric automobile is not a new thing. In fact, somebody said it was there before fuel combustion engine came but was not efficient at that time. The use of petrol engine took over because it was more efficient. Now, because of pollution and electronic advancement which has made electric automobiles very efficient, there is a kind of shift. People want to look into electric automobile as a means of mobility.”
Reducing pollution by 80 per cent:
If you can reduce the amount of pollution in the air coming through automobiles, then you would have reduced pollution by almost 80 per cent and life on earth will be safer. So there is now a tendency to move towards electric mobility, not only automobiles, even boats and trains. In advanced countries, the number of electric automobiles in use is on the increase.
Of course, many are now using what we call hybrid which is electric engine and fuel combustion engine together. This reduces the amount of fuel you burn. But the ultimate is electric automobile so that we can do away with pollution of the atmosphere. That is already gaining ground now in countries like the US and China. In China, electric bikes are common and a number of their taxis are electric. So very soon, electric mobility will take over from fuel combustion.
Electric car and power bike
“I started in 2005 to research into electric automobiles. Our electric automobile came on the road on July 1, 2010 and I have been using it but not continuously being the only one we have made, we don’t just use it any how. What we did was to buy a fuel combustion engine car, removed the engine and designed and assembled the electric engine inside it.
We have also advanced in the sense that the first one we did, we brought in the parts but between then and now, we have worked on two of the three major components which are the speed regulator and the charging system because after running about 70km, you charge for six hours continuously.
Today, we have successcfully designed and assembled our own speed controller. We have tested it by mounting it on a four-wheel cycle and it is moving very well. We have almost perfected the charging system. Of course, since September 2007, we have been able to come up with a charging system but it was not as efficient as what we have now. We are replacing the one we did in 2010 with the one we have now which is a lot faster and more reliable.
The only component we have not started to do here is the electric motor itself. But that is not a big deal because there is no vehicle company that manufactures all the parts. You get some parts from one company and then you design some,” said the professor of chemical engineering.
Ahead of many nations
“We have gone very far and I think we are ahead of many other nations. We are ahead of Australia because they are not yet making those things and they are the ones in the forefront of electric automobile. An Indian man that came for business in Abuja saw my programme on television and came all the way to look for us here.
He said he came because they also have interest in electric automobile and that his company was given approval by the Indian Government to start introducing electric mobility into their taxi system. By the time we talked, I found out that we are ahead of them. They don’t make any parts and yet, they have got to the point of changing their taxi system to electric automobiles but we have gone to the point of producing the controller and the charger,” he said.
What Nigeria must do
“Even as an oil-exporting country, we cannot help encouraging something that will not consume fuel for two reasons: One, we are not making even the fuel combustion vehicles, we are importing them so if in the next five or six years the whole world is changing into electric automobile, you say ‘oh we are not going to go into that,’ you will be forced to import the electric automobiles they are making and good enough, petroleum is not only used for fuel combustion by automobiles, there are hundreds of products today that are made from petroleum just that Nigeria is only focusing on exporting crude.
Our clothes are from petroleum. When you talk of petrochemicals, the basic raw material is petroleum. So all we need to do is for us to try to focus on petrochemicals and start to divert the crude we cannot export to produce other things that can be exported.
Of course we will still be selling our crude but not as much as before. This is one reason why we should not say we are not going to encourage electric automobile production. Two, for now, we are only importing vehicles, when you join the race of electric automobiles manufacturing; you become one of the countries that will be earning revenue from exporting your own electric automobiles.
So while the fuel is not used for fuelling cars again, generators for the charging the automobiles will still be using fuel . You will now join them in also exporting vehicles and so you can increase your revenue base more than what it was before. We have gone very far and I think we are among the top five countries,” he noted.
First published in the Nigerian Vanguard May 10 2012.