A New Trajectory For Nigeria’s Refineries —Godwin J. Igwe


A turn-around is a planned, periodic shut down (total or partial) of a refinery process unit or plant, to perform safe and efficient maintenance and repair operations, overhaul, inspect, test, and replace process materials/equipment. It is a normal oil refinery industry housekeeping standard all over the world, except in Nigeria, where, for example, the Kaduna refinery did not receive any industry standard TAM for over 10 years.

Think for a moment about your car. For it to run safely and smoothly, it needs a tune-up every 3,000 miles or so to replace and maintain parts that wear out through normal usage. It is the same situation with a refinery, only unlike your car, a refinery has over 20 major processing units that cannot all be serviced at the same time.

My solution is to initiate a programme by selecting from our best and brightest graduate and professional engineers/scientists, and attach them, as a group, to all our refineries and process industries. We can even have a “trouble-shooting” squad with a concentration of brain power comparable to foreign consultants. We shall train and attach each group/team to a process unit for 1, 2, or 3 years, until they become experts on each assigned unit e.g. distillate FCCUs (Fluid Catalytic Cracking Units), Resid FCCUs, Hydrocrackers, Reformers (both semi-regenerative and continuous catalytic regeneration types), cokers, coke-calciners, visbreakers, merox, hydrotreaters for kero-and-gasoil streams, etc. They must be clearly educated with respect to strategies, goals, and purpose of their own activities within the overall plan. If this is intellectually and soundly based on engineering and scientific principles, rather than on politics, we will quickly become energy independent, and would not then need to pay foreign experts like UOP, Chevron, IFP, Stone & Webster, Mobil, Haldor Topsoe, KTI/Technip, Linde, CD-Tech, Stork Comprimo, etc. We may still need them initially for major maintenance involving new equipment, e.g., sensors, heat exchangers, compressors, centrifugal/reciprocating pumps, rotors, etc.), and as licensors of ISO (International Standard Organization) certified documentations and manuals, to ensure a safe refinery.

But, we have to start somewhere.

I relocated from Nigeria in 1971, and as the only recipient for the continent of Africa selected for year 1988/89, based on competitive world wide proposals, to receive the World Bank Robert McNamara Fellowship, (on “Instrumentation and Maintenance of Equipment in Small-and-Medium-Scale Industries in Third World Countries”), I had the singular privilege and opportunity to visit and understudy within one year, 13 different US refinery and process industries and their maintenance cultures. My platform base was Texas A&M University as a Visiting Professor of Chemical Engineering. Among other things, I learned:

Good care delays the day when the object, after long service, must be refurbished, whether it be a human being or equipment.

Whether small or large scale, Third World industries would need: (a) Individuals with technical knowledge; (b) Mechanical experience or training; (c) Electrical/Electronic experience or training. Such individuals must know about motor failures, gear failures, how to fix bearings, valve clearance, agitators, pumps, compressors, how to fix O-rings and gaskets when they are out of place; tube failures as a result of high pressure, fatigue due to wear and tear, and some vibrational analysis.

The Maintenance engineers advised that workers in maintenance must train on a particular equipment as technology and systems are continuously changing. Many learn on the job.

Engage in Preventive and Predictive maintenance daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually. Some of the techniques suitable for detecting wear include infra-red thermography, neutron backscatter and airborne ultrasonic detection. The latter, commonly referred to as ultrasound scanning, is said to be the most accurate in finding pressure and vacuum leaks, locating faults in valves, condensers, gaskets, seals, and caulking; troubleshooting compressors, pumps, heat exchangers, steam traps, tanks, turbines, and boiler casings; detecting mechanical wear in gears, and finding loose connections in electrical systems.

A good maintenance workshop must have: a machine-tool shop; machinists, pipe fitters, welders, instrumentation technicians, constant supply of spare parts, a good work order system, statistical quality control system, and a good safety measure system. When a sensible maintenance system has been established, the maintenance department could then do what it should actually be doing, i.e., fabrication and construction of materials, equipment manufacturing, and development engineering.

Finally, we will need partners to establish a new Centre for Refinery and Petrochemicals (CR&P) to enable us develop interdisciplinary research and education programmes that address the intersection of people, technology, and the environment, and that provides the foundation for new industries through innovation. We need investors to invest $1 Billion in our ideas (to provide a pilot plant having a desalter, an atmospheric distillation, a naphtha hydrotreater, a catalytic reformer, a SRGO hyrotreater and a visbreaker), state-of-the-art computers/software packages, and infrastructure for the Centre over the next five years. If the Federal Government of Nigeria (FEC) will spend $1.537 Billion importing tooth picks, they will be justified in supporting this national endeavour.

Therefore, I am inviting through this medium, all interested Nigerian and African engineers and scientists, Technologists, and skilled refinery and process industry talents, all over the world, to contact me with ideas (preferably with statement of capability) at the Centre for Refinery and Petrochemicals, University of Port Harcourt. Let us do something together, because I believe that our engineers and scientists are ready to work if provided with the right opportunity and environment. We only need to change our value system and priorities.

The Centre aims to create Refining and Petrochemical systems that will require far fewer resources while continuing to meet the needs of our industrial users and improving the quality of technology delivery systems. With new knowledge and technological advances, CR&P will design new strategies for more sustainable solutions to our oil and gas challenges.

The Centre will focus its research such that it will position the University of Port Harcourt as the premiere global Centre of excellence and building block for Refining and Petrochemicals in Africa, that will respond to the legitimate needs of the middle class for security and stability through the multiplier effect of activities represented by refining and petrochemicals.

The intellectual merit and significance of the proposed activity relies on exploration of opportunities and challenges for developing African countries (specifically Nigeria) producing oil and gas, to exploit downstream product processes, to propel their developmental objectives, through establishing small and medium scale industries from refinery and petrochemical feedstocks. Tools and means necessary to accomplish this objective will be through post-graduate training programmes, consultancy, laboratory analyses, research and development, at the Centre for Refining and Petrochemicals. We are starting from a position of strength. University of Port Harcourt, through Institute of Petroleum Studies, is already established as a leading industry-focused research institute, giving us an excellent start towards our goal.

The CR&P will be based at University of Port Harcourt, but will seek partnership with all Nigerian Universities, University of Ghana, and most other African and Caribbean Universities. Researchers at U.S. Universities, German, British, French, and other world-wide Universities will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives.

The proposed involvement of over 20 industry partners — including multinational corporations, utilities, and start-up firms — will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship. The CR&P will also collaborate with complementary research centres and organisations specialising in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Our programme will foster broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing Nigerian engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy through hands-on experience. Our centre will place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

The Centre will be designed to speed the process of transnational knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy, and we expect the new centre to make even more significant impact on the competitiveness of Nigeria’s Oil and Gas industry.

•Igwe was Peer Reviewer and Panelist for U.S. Dept. of Energy, and U.S. National Science Foundation. He is a Fellow of The American Institute of Chemical Engineers, World Bank Robert McNamara, and Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow. •[email protected]

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