Challenges can be likened to the two sides of a coin; you either see the head or the tail. A challenging situation can be perceived either as a problem or an opportunity, depending on the mentality of the individuals involved.
If we were told as a team some two years ago that we would provide a solution to an urgent problem in our country, Nigeria, we would have waved it off as empty talk.
In Nigeria, constant power outages are the norm. Most Nigerian households depend on generators as an alternative source of power. Unfortunately, fuel to power the generators is scarce, and it can also be hazardous. Our team leader, Adebola, realized the magnitude of the problem when she read an online story in August 2012 about a family of five who died of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of inhaling generator fumes overnight.
“If we had been told two years ago that we would solve an urgent national problem, we would have waved it off as empty talk.”
This situation prompted her to think about a possible solution to this daunting challenge. It occurred to her that the major cause of the toxic gas is incompletely burnt carbon from petrol combustion, which leads to the release of carbon monoxide. Her next consideration therefore was to find a replacement for the carbon.
At this point, she invited us to brainstorm on a possible way out, and so our team, ‘The Fantastic Four’ – Adebola, Eniola, Toyin and Abiola – was born. We deliberated and shared our idea with our science teacher, Mr. Olaide Lawal, who said it was possible. With this encouragement, we forged ahead and began experimenting on possible materials that could replace carbon. Suddenly it occurred to us that rocket engines are powered by hydrogen: If hydrogen became the input in our generator, the output would be water.
We began experimenting with water but then were faced with a new challenge: Its hydrogen production was too low! If we electrolysed water, our generator would lose 1.25 volts per cycle. This was not satisfying to us as a team, and furthermore, Adebola suggested that we should consider a material that wouldn’t cost anything – and that was how we got the idea of electrolysing urine.
Our initial setup consisted of an electrolytic cell, which was made from an old car battery, as suggested by Eniola; filters and pipes bought by Toyin and Abiola; and an empty gas storage tank. We then reconfigured our petrol-based generator and carried out our first experiment – and then we faced another huge challenge as the cell exploded! We kept on checking our process and setup until Mr. Lawal pointed out our error: The hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture was returning to the cell. We then inserted one-way valves into the pipes to ensure a one-directional flow of the gas mixture, and it worked!
During our first public exhibition of the new device, it seemed to be a failure; people did not believe at first that it could work, but our team never gave up. After this initial setback, we presented our generator at the Maker Faire Africa (2012), held at Blue Roof Lagos, and there our invention was celebrated. Since then we have presented it nationally and internationally and won many awards; we have given interviews on both national and global media stations, and the news of our invention is all over the Internet. It has become such a success that even the Lagos State Government has become interested and wants to work closely with our team to develop it further for large-scale production. Our school, Doregos Private Academy, greatly helped us during this project. They provided us with funds, transportation and the moral support and encouragement we needed to forge ahead. We are deeply grateful.
We can boldly say, through this experience, that challenges are true wake-up calls in life; those who seek for opportunities in challenges are the ones who become champions.