Nigeria: How Entrepreneur, Mark Obisesan, Is Changing Nigeria's Renewable Energy Industry

21 September 2020
interview

Situated about 100km from Ilorin (the capital of Kwara state) in Asa local government, is a renewable energy factory with big ambitions of changing the way families cook. Founded by Mark Obisesan, a young Nigerian with a background in computing and Information Technology, Rianol Energy is gradually influencing what happens in many kitchens across several households. Rianol Energy specializes in the production of ethanol as a cheaper and much safer alternative to kerosene and gas.

"When I returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom about 10 years ago, I wanted to set up a water factory and create hundreds of jobs for local communities but my market research led me somewhere else," Obisesan recalls. "I soon realized I needed a steady power supply to successfully run a factory at the scale I intended. This led me to research cheap and alternative power supply and then I stumbled on the opportunity that led me to set up a renewable energy company instead."

And while Obisesan makes no pretense about his motives of making a decent profit from his enterprise, he is now more inspired by the way his business is affecting the lives of people positively. There are about 70,000 kerosene related deaths in Nigeria yearly, not to mention the hundreds of deaths from gas explosions, but Obisesan's brilliant idea of converting ethanol into energy for domestic cooking is likely to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, such avoidable domestic accidents.

Mark Obisesan has big dreams of not just revolutionizing how women cook, but he also has his gaze on pharmaceutical companies who rely on ethanol for the production of certain drugs. He sheds more light on his darling start-up, the challenges he has to surmount every day and what the future holds for Rianol Energy;

What inspired you to start this company?

Interestingly, I did not start out wanting to set up an energy company. What I wanted to do upon my return to Nigeria was actually to start a bottle water factory. But while I was conducting market research, I realized the cost of power was so high it would eat up most of the profits and so I started looking for cheaper alternative energy supply. It was while conducting this wide and extensive research that I stumbled on renewable energy and how one can convert ethanol to the energy that was potentially cheaper and much safer than gas or kerosene. And that was how Rianol Energy was born.

Furthermore, the energy it produces is clean and environmentally friendly - saving us from the ills of pollution. Studies have shown that ethanol has less carbon soot, fewer emissions, produces no smoke or smell and encourages renewable energy usage. Using this as a source of energy will enable us to bequeath a healthy environment to our children and grandchildren. We all have to be responsible citizens.

Did your educational background or experience have anything to do with this discovery?

Not really. My background is in computing and Information Technology but I do have an unbelievable knack for spotting gaps and opportunities. So, once I recognized the opportunity during my market research, I put together a team of young, dynamic and very talented people who were experts in this field and most definitely knew much more than I did. All I did was plant the seed (the idea) and they ran the show. So, I'm like the big brother who sets the vision and give direction while the team runs the show.

Tell us how this idea works in practice.

I'll attempt to answer your question without giving away too much of my trade secret (laughs!). Normally, you get ethanol from starch and sugar crops like corn, wheat, and sugar cane. What we have done is to acquire an expanse of land in Asa, somewhere in Kwara state, and to plant some of these crops. It is from these crops, through a carefully managed process, otherwise called fractional distillation, in the factory that we extract different grades of ethanol that can serve several purposes one of which is energy.

Who is your target market and why do you believe an opportunity exists here?

First, our target market is the end-users of domestic fuel which is virtually every household in Nigeria! That is a huge market by every standard. To your point about the opportunity inherent, I think every human being is rational and once they are exposed to a product that is cheaper and safer, they are most likely to make a purchasing decision. Thousands of people die of kerosene and gas explosions every year. What we are offering is something much safer and a lot cheaper, so I'm confident that the opportunities are limitless.

Do you have any plans to expand soon?

We're investing in what is known as micro-distilleries. This allows for easy expansion of our operations in that we can easily set up more operations as and when we acquire suitable land for crop cultivation. For example, if we acquire land say a hundred kilometers from our current site, we would not need to worry about the logistics involved in getting the feedstock to a distillery that's located a hundred kilometers away. This is why through extensive research, we decided to invest in micro-distilleries as opposed to big ones which will end up being underutilized because of the problems involved in getting the feedstock to it from farms that are situated in different areas.

More so, during fractional distillation (the method involved in the production of ethanol), several different purities or grades of ethanol are produced. One of them is pharmaceutical ethanol. This can be sold to pharmaceutical companies in the production of medical drugs. The gases produced during the fermentation process in production are also sold off to producers of carbonated drinks (fizzy drinks). These are some of the areas we will be expanding shortly.

We're also working on developing a completely zero-waste process where the farm and the plant become self-sufficient. A process where virtually nothing goes to waste from cultivating the crops right to the end product of extracting ethanol.

How many people do you employ?

At the moment, the company employs 10 permanent staff in administrative positions, 5 other permanent staff in the farm and factory operations, and depending on where we are in the crop cycle, up to 1500 casual laborers.

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