19 August 2007

Nigeria: Funding Research for Petroleum Industry


Lagos — If Nigeria is to achieve a sustainable level of technical self-sufficiency in the management of its strategic oil and gas petroleum resources, it will be of crucial importance that the reservoir of scientific knowledge and resource persons in this sector are not only localised in terms of access, but also indigenised to generate data specifically on the Nigerian oil and gas resources. It is a sad fact of our prowess as a leading oil-producer that the bulk of the relevant technical and scientific know-how has been firmly in the hands and heads of foreigners.

The recent refocusing and rejuvenation of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to intervene meaningfully and effectively in the nation's petroleum sector has resulted in several encouraging measures to address salient issues pertaining to the development of our oil and gas industry. Not surprisingly one of the areas receiving renewed PTDF impact is the advancement of indigenous research in petroleum and related disciplines in Nigerian universities. The new management of the PTDF recently raised the total endowed sum for such research activities in six universities from 560 million naira to one billion naira and also added the University of Jos and the University of Benin to the benefiting universities -UNIBADAN, UNIPORT, UNIMAID, ABU, Zaria, UNN and UDU, Sokoto.

The focus of this review however is on the array of scientific subjects currently being researched under the PTDF's Universities Endowment Programme. Professorial Chairs have already been endowed in six universities for Petroleum Engineering (UNIBADAN), Gas Engineering (UNIPORT), Basinal Studies in Geology (UNIMAID), Chemical Engineering (ABU), Geological Sciences (UNN) and Petroleum Chemistry (UDU). This PTDF initiative is unprecedented, especially with its specific focus on the nation's petroleum sector and research in Nigerian universities. Certainly, the broad subject areas covered by the six professorial chairs in these universities are of strategic relevance to the quest for progress in indigenous research into the nation's oil and gas resources.

In the University of Nigeria Nsukka, the research topic is Geological Evolution and Hydro-carbon Potentials of South Eastern Nigerian Sedimentary Basins with particular interest in the Anambra Basin of South Eastern Nigeria. The research involves conducting detailed geological investigations for developing evolution models for the basins, evaluating characteristics of the basins which may be favourable for hydro-carbon accumulation and preservation and indicating hydro-carbon accumulation and preservation. Core researches have already commenced on the area's organic geo-chemistry, biostratigraphy, geophysics and petrophysics, sedimentology/sequence stratigraphy and surface geological field work and this year the endowment is pursuing outstanding research issues.

The Professorial Chair at the University of Ibadan has key areas of research in petro-physics, reservoir engineering, petroleum production technology, natural gas production, forecasting and controlling oil field related pollution problems, pipeline maintenance, sociology of communities in oil producing areas and waste minimization and utilization. Among the areas of research focus include compositional approach for calculating pressure depletion performance in gas condensate reservoirs, prediction of scale build up rate around well bore during water flooding, modelling wax deposition during oil production and experimental characterization of some crude oil emulsions.

This year the UNIBADAN PTDF Chair is embarking on studies in the development of generalised recovery factor models for the Nigerian oil and gas reservoirs, quantitative evaluation of the impact of risks of investments in the oil and gas projects in Nigeria and an appraisal of the fiscal regimes of selected OPEC nations. It will also undertake a study of joint venture participation and development of a robust gas fiscal regime for Nigeria.

Catalyst Development is the special area of interest in the Chemical Engineering Professorial Chair endowed by the PTDF at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with focus on research on the development of zeolite catalysts X and Y for use in petroleum refining, data collection in the oil and gas sector and manpower development for the oil and gas industry. On going research activities include development and modification of pure-phase zeolite Y from the Nigerian kaolin clay and its involvement in cracking reactions, development of platinum-alumina catalyst for the reformation of straight run naptha of a typical crude distillation as well as design and fabrication of a pilot plant for the production of alum from Kankara (Katsina State) clay and synthesis of ZSM-5 from locally sourced kaolin clay.

At the University of Maiduguri, PTDF sponsored research is sensibly focussed on the Chad Basin with the aim of studying its hydro-carbon potential, investigating solid minerals for application in the petroleum industry, ground water resources, geological history and environmental issues. The objectives of the research include finding specific geological areas with high potential for drilling and seismic modelling for oil and gas, finding mineral deposits whose properties and chemistry are suitable for application in the petroleum industry and drawing up a full and more accurate stratigraphy and geological history of the area. It will also strive to locate groundwater resources for potential use by local communities and find solutions to environmental problems of the area.

Among the key areas of research under the University of Port Harcourt Professorial Chair are natural gas utilization for single cell protein production, policy framework for LNG production and development, gas to liquid conversion, optimization of natural gas utilization in Nigeria and coning and cupping in oil and gas. Other areas include feasibility of using gas for power generation at UNIPORT, environmental issues in gas utilization projects, Nigeria gas reserve evaluation and database and estimating air pollutants from a natural gas-powered thermal plant.

These research activities are being undertaken to encourage and develop interdisciplinary teaching and research in gas technology, create an interface between industry, government and the University for cooperation in research, develop sound gas engineering programmes at undergraduate and post-graduate levels and contribute to development of a gas policy in Nigeria.

The Professorial Chair endowed by the Fund at the Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto will focus on research into development of catalysts for the partial oxidation of hydrocarbons, developing tests for identifying adulterated kerosene, diesel and gasoline, developing oil well cement and analysis of engine oil as diagnostic tool for detecting faulty engine parts. The objectives include developing technical support services aimed at improving performance of the refining process, developing together with the oil sector cost reduction procedures and efficient operations through introduction of quality control methods and formulation of improved refining additives and developing ways of handling, utilizing and recycling spent catalysts from the refining industry.

Other objectives include exploring new ideas in conversion of hydrocarbons from petroleum into petrochemicals, undertaking conduction studies on polymer utilization in Nigeria and the effects of ambient conditions on the polymers, with a view to developing biodegradable polymers and recycling used polymeric materials as well as conversion of end-products of refineries and petrochemical industries into useful industrial products.

According to a review of the Fund's activities released recently, these research activities were approved by a National Board of Trustees comprising the Executive Secretary of the PTDF as Chairman and Vice Chancellors of endowed universities which also approves the budget for each year for each chair holder. In addition, the endowed universities have an Endowment Management Committee that supervises disbursement of the funds and activities of the researchers.

This comprehensive analysis of the detailed content and focus of the research activities being undertaken by the selected Nigerian universities benefiting from PTDF endowment shows convincingly that the quest for Nigerian self-sufficiency in the science and technology of development of our oil and gas industry is on a sound footing.

- Eleru wrote from Port Harcourt

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