Education Review: How two students, aged 14, invented water-powered generator
The frequent tragic news reports of generator fume accidents set the minds of two young science students, Tomisin Osibote and Kpakpando Akaeze of Doregos Private Academy, located in Federal Housing Estate, Akinogun, Ipaja, Lagos, to thinking of what to do to change the recurring ugly situations.
The duo, aged 14, respectively, are members of their school’s JETS (Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists) Club. To them, knowing science is more than West African Examinations Council (WAEC) or its counterpart, National Examinations Council (NECO), providing you with advanced specimens with which to sit for their practical papers in such subjects as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Agriculture Science and Technical Drawing.
Under JETS, students who offer sciences think beyond examination to what they can do to help make society a better place to live in. It was during one of the brainstorming sessions that Tomisin and his friend, Kpakpando, came up with an idea that a layman would, ordinarily, find crazy: using water and waste oil (the kind you see littered everywhere in mechanics workshops) to produce electrical energy that can, today, power electronic gadgets like cell phones, laptops, small refrigerator, etc. This they took to their science teacher, supervisor and patron of their club, Mr. Lawal Oluseyi Olaide.
“When you bring an idea to me, we look at it together, we brainstorm and see whether it is workable or not,” Lawal said in a chat with Education Review. “I tell them that when I say a word, don’t just accept what I say, question it. It is the way I’ve trained them. If I say, ‘do this’ and they do it without questioning me, I get angry. From questioning me, we can learn a lot of things together. That’s why I tell them, ‘if I say anything, don’t just accept it hook, line and sinker.’ Question it. With that, many crazy ideas come up.”
This idea of a water-powered generator was actually an improvement on the similar experiment thought up and successfully carried out by four of their senior students, all girls, about two years ago – a urine-powered generator, an experiment which were to take them to many places both in Nigeria and outside it, and winning for them and their school, several scientific laurels.
“People really liked the project but one thing they were concerned about was the odour of the urine,” Tomisin confided in Education Review on the reason he and and Kpakpando decided to come up with the water/waste oil-powered generator idea.
“We were told that a particular chemical can help to reduce the odour of the urine but not remove it completely,” Kpakpando further explained. “The urine will still be smelling and people were also worried about how would they use something from their body to produce another thing and there were critics that were saying no, we should find another way. So, we decided that ok, since they used urine, let’s find something that is similar to urine but it is not coming out from our body. And, so we decided to go for ionized water and waste oil. We want to try and clean up the environment. We also want to help reduce the amount of carbon monoxide that is released into the ecosystem and into the ozone layers.”
Working the experiment
The two SS II (senior secondary school) students want to use it to reduce if not totally eliminate the untimely deaths that result from the emission and inhalation of carbon monoxide fumes from fuel-powered generators.
“When we buy a new generator that is working on fuel, the engine is efficient; it works well,” Kpakpando lectured. “But as you continue to use it, the carbon that is deposited into the engine reduces the efficiency and that carbon is carbon monoxide which kills people and depletes the ozone layers. When we carried out the experiment by using a carbon monoxide detector, we found out that a normal fuel generator produces 1, 996 cubic volume of carbon monoxide but water-powered generator produces just water vapour while the waste oil-powered one produces 2.3 cubic volume. Do you see the difference? That means, our own helps the world, reduces the carbon monoxide that is released into the ozone layer as well as the number of deaths that is caused by it.”
“Many homes are dying,” Lawal agreed. “But when you use water-powered generator, what comes out at the exhaust is just water vapour. So it is friendly to the environment and to human beings and it is cheaper, that is the key word there. The exhaust doesn’t get darkened with carbon deposit. This makes the engine run smoother.”
Inside the school’s science laboratory where you were taken to see how the experiment works, you were taken aback as you ran into a normal 1.9 KVA electric generator but with serious modifications bearing some cylinders, inter-connected with some cables and tubes. And you wondered how it works. With the first cylinder filled with the right amount of ionized water, the engine was started after a little drop of fuel had been poured into it. About three minutes later, a green light by the side of the generator came on.
“The fuel is to start off the engine, you know, for combustion to take place. But this green light that just came on is to show that the generator does not need the petrol any more,” Tomisin explained. “So it will now start working either on the ionized water or the waste oil.” And truly, after steaming for some minutes, a bright light suddenly announced its presence at an electric bulb end connected to the generator.
“The engine we bought was designed to use petrol,” Lawal further lectured. “It is just the normal engine but we now reconfigured it. For it to work well, you have to retard the engine, from 11 to 8 degrees. It is just like saying, ‘cool down’. For the normal petrol engine, it is 11 degrees, for diesel it is higher than that. Hydrogen burns faster, that’s why we had to reduce it from 11 to eight degrees.”
Wonders and explanations
You wondered whether someone could go out there and buy this smaller generator that Nigerians call ‘I-pass-my-neighbour’, mix and put into it some ionized water and reproduce the same electrical ‘miracle’ you were looking at.
Lawal laughed before adding: “A layman cannot do it but an engineer would know how to do the reconfiguration. You have to do some adjustments here and there on the fuel engine and tank and add some cylinders. But if you teach a roadside mechanic or operator the radius and all that, he will be able to do it for you.”
On the use of the ionized water, Tomisin added: “You either get a chemist to mix it for you since you don’t really know about it. A chemist can combine it for you. All we tried to do is modify what our seniors had done. We used the ideas from their work to create our water-powered generator.”
“You cannot use table or common salt in preparing the water because if you do, the corrosion that will result will damage the engine,” Kpakpando explained “And we don’t want that to happen to our generator.”
“Using ionized water produces hydrogen and oxygen gases,” Tomisin clarified. “It is collected in one of the cylinders, connected by a T-junction; one contains ionized water while the other contains borax. Borax helps in the drying of the gas that is being produced.”
“When this green light comes on, you don’t need to change manually to either ionized water or waste oil,” Kpakpando filled in. “The green light that comes on is to indicate that the generator is ready to be operated on ionized water or waste oil. It is automatic. Once you open the tap, it works automatically; you don’t need to do anything again. Two of us decided to embark on this project with the aid of our seniors that had done their own project and our supervisor, Mr. Lawal. They helped us to get the material and also advised us on how to go about it.
“Almost the same process is repeated with waste oil except that we ground dry banana peels and pour into the cylinder and it helps to remove the heavy metal or lead in waste oil that knocks our engine. Through the help of the vibration of the generator engine the oil is filtered. It is like a recycling method. After the oil has been converted to gas, it is no more dense, it now builds up to this chamber here where it is further purified.”
“We call this recycler the thermal catalytic chamber,” Tomisin added. “After the gases have been ready there is a pressure sensor over there that changes the signal. To change the process of our normal generator, we have to change it from gasoline to gas; so we retarded it from 11 degrees to 8 degrees. The water follows into the borax chamber which helps in drying the gas and also purifying it the more. It is then fed into the diffuser; diffuser reduces the pressure of the gas because normally when it goes through process it will be at high pressure. It now follows into our engine and our generator is fed on the gas generated.”
Energy lifespan and hope
At this juncture, you wondered how long the electrical energy power so generated can last. “Because we are using it for a project, we decided to use the lowest-powered generator, which is 1.9 litres,” Kpakpando explained. “But when our seniors were creating their own generator, they used 3.9. So, if we upgrade the capacity, it will last for more hours but the minimum we’ve tested is six hours for 1.83 litres of waste oil. If the ionized water is loaded, the power generator also lasts for six hours. But for the generators that are working on fuel, you need about two litres for a maximum of four or five hours.”
“It depends on the amount of litres that you put into it,” Tomisin agreed. “Ours is 1.83 litres of ionized water or waste oil and it lasts for six hours. We believe that if this project is fully developed, it will go a long way in helping the whole world. What it can power depends on the capacity of the generator and the number of litres. We decided to use 1.9 KVA generator because of its portability, we’ll be traveling everywhere with it. We’ve tested it on a refrigerator and it carried it and it was able to carry 1,600 watts. All these appliances like radio-sets, phones and even laptops it was able to carry them. But if a larger KVA generator is being used it should be able to carry the whole house and supply power to TV sets and other electrical appliances.”
With the 2WP Tri-powered Generator, Doregos Private Academy, which had won several national and international science awards in the past, clinched the first position with a 76.4 aggregate score, at the National Science Fair and Quiz competition held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, recently, and thus became the first on the list of the six schools chosen to represent Nigeria in the Intel International Science and Engineering championship in the US.
“Lagos State government is trying to get us encouraged. They had been here for about three or four times,” Lawal said in an answer to the question as to whether any investor has indicated interest. “I know that investors will come one day, if not now then later.”
“God has been helping us in time past and when they were going this time around, we knew we had the best students, not just one of the best,” Mrs. Rebecca Ojapa, the Vice Principal (Administration) said in a chat with Education Review. “The only surprise is that there were so many schools that came and we also know that they came with their best. We admonish our students during the morning assembly everyday: ‘don’t just try to be No.1, be your best. And being your best, you come on top.’ The vision of Doregos Private Academy is to provide education that is second to none not only in Nigeria but all over the world.”
When she said that she was re-echoing the school’s mission statement: “Creating a learning environment which maximizes individual potentials to meet the challenges of education and life.”