Generating Energy in Nigeria Through Biomass Exploration

The transformation of Nigeria to a bio-based economy, where non-food biomass replaces crude oil, will emerge if the identified research gaps, policy shortfall and sustainability issues are addressed. The materializing of the 10% ethanol blending in the nation’s refineries to 100% domestic bio-fuels production in the country by 2020 will be possible if the biomass processing routes and sustainability issues are well defined. Usually, bio-fuels development takes place in rural areas. These areas in Nigeria are characterized by small-scale and subsistence farming. It is believed that bio-fuels will create jobs and means of livelihood to the rural dwellers by attracting to the agricultural sector, capital investment and new technologies as well as improved access to fertilizers, infrastructure and high yielding varieties.

The sustainable production of transportation fuels from biomass resources in Nigeria requires alternative feed stocks and new technology development. Currently it is not clear that non-food biomass feed-stock will be established, as current research provides no evidence for this take up. The co-processing of bio-intermediate oil with petroleum in conventional refinery infrastructure is dependent on a number of factors, among which are the feed stock type and availability, the energy potential, the capital cost of integrating the biomass pre-conversion facility to the existing conventional refinery infrastructure against the cost of a stand-alone bio-refinery, the location of the petroleum refinery and technology transfer.

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Bio-fuels production can also increase access to energy services for instance by expanding access to electricity and portable water, reducing workload of women and children who are usually in charge of collecting firewood, and improving health by reducing indoor air pollution. This implies higher rural wages with positive effects for the local economy. The term biomass literally means living matter. However, biomass is often used to describe any organic material obtained from plant and animal tissue. This includes agricultural resources, agricultural residues, forest resources, waste including municipal solid waste, industrial waste, and other wastes, as well as algae. These materials are referred to as feed stocks in bio-refining and are classified into four generations: first, second, third, and fourth. The most important among all is the first generation which refers to the bio-fuels derived from agricultural products: sugar or starch-based crops and oil seeds, e.g. sugarcane to produce bio-ethanol or palm oil for the production of bio-diesel. Through fermentation or trans-esterification, first generation biomass feed stocks can be processed into bio-ethanol or bio-diesel respectively.

Biomass is abundant in nature and broadly dispersed globally with its distribution being dependent on geographical area. Country such as Nigeria has significant natural resources to produce transportation bio-fuels, bio-power and bio-products from biomass. Nigeria has substantial biomass potential of about 144 million tonnes per year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration;

”Most Nigerians, especially rural dwellers, use biomass and waste from wood, charcoal, and animal dung, to meet their energy needs. Biomass (comprising crop residues, manure, charcoal, and wood) accounts for about 80% of the total primary energy consumed in Nigeria; oil (13%), natural gas (6%) and hydro (1%). This large percentage represents biomass used to meet off-grid heating and cooking needs in the rural areas”.

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Biomass feed stocks can be converted into different fuels using a range of processes to generate heat or electricity, produce liquid bio-fuels, or bio-gas. Most of the emerging bio-refineries in Nigeria use first generation biomass feed stocks. These sources are largely food crops and thus not sustainable for bio-fuel production. First generation bio-refining is largely driven by legislative targets and favourable taxation to increase bio-fuel supply. Most notable is the directives set by the EU (2009/28/EC), the US Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and the 2005 Nigerian Bio-fuel Policy Incentive which sets legislative targets for establishing bio-fuel markets by providing exemptions for bio-fuel industries from taxation. The adverse effects first generation biomass feed-stock have on global food prices is moving research into the use of feed-stock biomass resources. These feed stocks include crop residues, wood residues and dedicated energy crops cultivated primarily for the purpose of bio-fuel production. Second generation biomass feed stocks are increasingly gaining interest globally as sustainable alternative to fossil fuels because they are not food crops and so not in competition with food.

There is a wide variety of photosynthetic and fermentative bacteria and algae that are currently being explored as bio-catalysts for bio-fuel production because of their high carbohydrate or lipid/ oil contents. These microbial cells are categorized as third generation biomass feed-stock. In comparison to first- and second-generation feed-stock for bio-fuel production, these microbial cells are more sustainable because, they do not require arable crop lands or other farming inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, and water) for cultivation, and so are not in competition with food.

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