The gas pipeline has the potential to catalyse industrialisation and job creation, writes Idris Bugaje
The Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline is a 40-inch diameter, 614-km long natural gas pipeline recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari, marking a very significant infrastructure thrust with great potential to create petrochemical industries, power generation plants and millions of downstream jobs. Anchored by the NNPC, it aims to produce a steady and guaranteed gas supply network between the northern and southern parts of Nigeria by harnessing Nigeria’s vast gas resources, a good part of which is currently flared and wasted.
It has taken three years to get to this ground -breaking level since the project proposal was submitted to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) in June 2017 and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval of the pipeline project in December 2017. The $2.8bn project represents phase one of the 1,300km-long Trans-Nigerian Gas Pipeline (TNGP) project, which is being developed as part of Nigeria’s Gas Master Plan.
AKK Pipeline will transport up to 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from various gas gathering sites in Southern Nigeria. The wet gas will be processed at Ajaokuta to produce Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) used largely for domestic cooking, while the remaining dry gas will be transported to supply feedstock for new power plants and petrochemical plants at Abuja, Kaduna and Kano.
Since the project is likely to take two years to complete, it now gives good time for Nigerian and foreign investors to start planning the relevant downstream industries to utilize the dry gas (largely made up of methane). While electric power plants are major consumers of gas, an even greater value addition industry is the petrochemical industry. The states of Kano, Kaduna and Niger and the FCT should immediately set out committees to pursue investors in these sectors.
Petrochemicals that can be produced from natural gas are many and include Urea Fertilizer, Ammonia, Methanol and other alcohols, Formaldehyde, Ethylene Glycol, various liquid transport fuels, etc. All these can be produced from synthesis gas (made from natural gas) by using carefully selected catalysts and appropriate reaction conditions. Synthesis gas (sometimes shortened to Syngas) compositions must therefore be well controlled during processing in order to achieve high quality final products.
Syngas contains a gas mixture of varying amounts of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and is produced by the controlled combustion of natural gas in a very limited amount of air. Of great significance to the development of agriculture is Urea Fertilizer. It is a colorless and odorless solid that is highly soluble in water. At the moment, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) is erroneously restricting the movement of Urea Fertilizer especially in the North East for fear of its falling into the hands of Boko Haram, who it was thought, could use Urea to make Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Urea, also known as carbamide, is never a potential IED raw material because its chemical formula of CO(NH2)2 does not contain enough oxygen for the rapid combustion associated with explosives. The danger could be with Urea Nitrate, CH5N3O4, not Urea itself. In other words you must digest the Urea Fertilizer with Concentrated Nitric Acid to produce Urea Nitrate and surely Concentrated Nitric Acid, which is in liquid form at room temperature, is not easy to come by. The conversion reaction is exothermic (heat releasing) and the product has a destructive power similar to another well-known fertilizer-explosive, ammonium nitrate.
Northern states have great agricultural potential and as such we should expect a number of Urea fertilizer plants to come on board to be fed with natural gas from the AKK Pipeline. Urea absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and therefore is typically stored either in sealed plastic inner bags or, if stored in bulk, under tight cover with tarpaulin. NOTORE in Port Harcourt is presently the only producers of Urea Fertilizer which they largely export. Kaduna, Kano and Niger should endeavor to establish their own Urea Plants and be able to feed other Northern States.
The good thing about Synthesis Gas as feed stock in Urea production is that any time there is any problem in gas supply, one can easily switch to Coal as feedstock. In other words, the vast coal fields of Okaba, Kogi State, Obi, Nasarawa State and Akko and Ashaka in Gombe State can be mobilized as raw materials. The process of converting coal to syngas is called gasification and is the dominant technology used in South Africa, with its large coal reserves, to not only produce petrochemicals but transport fuels using the Fisher-Trope process. In fact any liquid transport fuel you buy in any fuel station in South Africa is a blend with two thirds produced from coal syngas while one third is from crude oil.
Another significant industrial use of the AKK gas would be in the production of process heat for many industries. Textile mills in Kaduna and Kano, for example, collapsed partly due to the very high cost of black oil (a whopping N140 per litre in those days, two decades ago). Natural gas can be connected to appropriate burners in water tube boilers to produce both low pressure steam and process hot water to meet the requirements of many manufacturing industries.
The AKK gas pipeline is a major infrastructural boost and a fulfillment of Mr. President’s promise on job creation and economic diversification. It is now left for the private sector to play their part to complete the value chain. AKK Gas shall soon be readily available for electric power generation and on our door steps, raw material for vast petrochemicals production. Our investors (Dangote inclusive) must now rise up to the challenge, dot the i’s and cross the t’s, to create the badly needed jobs that will ensure economic revitalization, reinvent a secure North and produce a united Nigeria.
Professor Bugaje is Rector, Kaduna Polytechnic