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Dangote’s World Class Refinery and Nigeria’s Carbon Footprint

By Aliu Akoshile

Following the delivery of two million barrels of crude oil as part of the requirements for its takeoff, the Dangote refinery will steam to an historic start in early 2024.  

The gigantic petrochemical project, which sits on a 6,180 acre land at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Ibeju Lekki, Lagos, has gulped roughly $20 billion in the seven years of its construction.

At full production, the world’s largest single train refinery will process 650,000 barrels of crude oil per day which correspond to 103.34 million litres of petrol. It has the capacity to also process diesel, aviation fuel, fertiliser, kerosene and other residual products, such as asphaltene, that are bound to alter Nigeria’s energy landscape and economic trajectory.

As Africa’s largest oil-producing nation, with an annual output of 69 million metric tonnes of crude oil out of the continent’s 332.2 million metric tones in 2021, Nigeria is ironically a net importer of refined petrol. It carried this burden for years after the four state-owned refineries were grounded for lack of turnaround maintenance.

Besides, the country also wrestled with an opaque bureaucracy that shrouded the importation of refined fuel and payment of fuel subsidy under successive governments. But President Bola Tinubu has finally blocked the drainpipes.

This is why the state-of-the-art Dangote refinery cannot be seen merely as the fulfillment of a personal ambition of its 66-year-old promoter and Africa’s wealthiest person, Aliko Dangote. It is, quite frankly, much more than that.

Being a phenomenal industrial behemoth and a national monument, the refinery has indeed reinforced Nigeria’s position as a key player in the global energy space. Dangote’s ultimate goal, if one may guess, is to halt Nigeria’s dependence on imported refined petroleum products and create a self-sustaining energy ecosystem for Africa’s most populous nation.

The brand value of Dangote refinery therefore extends beyond the capitalist motive of profit optimisation which Nigeria’s free economy nonetheless sanctions. One could imagine the direct  multiplier effects when the refinery eventually creates 135,000 permanent jobs, contributes to critical skills development and technology transfer, and accelerates the incubation of an army of small and medium scale entrepreneurs among the youth and women.

At full operation, it will meet the entire domestic demand for refined petrol in Nigeria, estimated currently at 40 million barrels per day, and also boost the country’s foreign reserves as oil accounts for about 90% of the export earnings.

An interesting twist is that the Dangote refinery has now placed Nigeria at the center of global debate on fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions attributable to bulk shipping.

Specifically, it has been argued that bulk ships, with their heavy discharge of greenhouse gases, are key drivers of carbon footprints in many countries. However as the conversation gathered momentum keen observers have argued that oil and gas will remain a core part of the world’s energy mix for many decades.

A recent McKinsey report indicates that about 35 percent of the projected $3 trillion global energy investments by the years 2040 will be deployed in fossil fuels.

Little wonder Europe and Asia are not slowing down on oil importation. Perhaps more than any region, Europe has maintained a high volume of oil import as it consumed roughly 14.4 million barrels per day in 2022 while China trailed it with 12.2 million barrels.

Viewed against this reality, Africa must be granted the reprieve to utilise its crude oil reserve of 125.3 billion barrels for the prosperity of its 1.419 billion people, just as Nigeria is poised to exploit its oil reserves of 36.9 billion barrels for the nation’s development.

Granted that Nigeria is bound by UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as it ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2004 and the Paris Agreement in 2017. This was in addition to its pledged Nationally Determined Contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent conditionally by 2030.

But fact is, the greenhouse gas emissions are driven by several interconnected factors. These include fuel based energy generation, inefficient waste management practices, unsustainable industrial activities, population growth and rapid urbanization.

While these are reasons for genuine concerns, historical data however indicates that Nigeria’s carbon emission footprint in the last six decades has increased only in arithmetic progression.

From a record low of 3,406.64 kilo tons in 1960, it has averaged 75,078.22 kilo tons over the past six decades, and only reached an all time high of 127,029.25 kilo tons in 2021. But this pales into insignificance when compared with over 2.2 million kilo tons of emission attributed to India in 2020 alone.

On the flip side, transportation sector is held accountable for emitting some of the most noxious gases globally. Ships engines are known to emit dangerous carbons such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and carbon dioxide as they dive through the belly of the ocean on intercontinental business voyage.

While transportation sector is estimated to emit roughly seven billion metric tons of the global carbon dioxide a year, the shipping sub sector is held responsible for almost 10 percent of the emissions.

Even within the shipping sub sector, bulk ships that lift oil are known to emit 440 million metric tons of carbon dioxide on average, while container ships emitted 140 million metric tons per year in 2020. These pose significant threat to the environment and trigger climate change impacts around the world.

Currently, emissions from shipping have increased by six percent to reach a record high of 710 million metric tons from a total of 53.8 billion metric tons of global carbon dioxide equivalent emitted in 2022. It is only the domestic production of crude oil by a high impact refinery as Dangote’s that can save the country and rest of the world from the harmful effects of carbon dioxide.

No less mitigation role is expected of an ultramodern refinery that was conceived based on the promoter’s fastidious obsession for adoption of the very best digital technology in all units of the gargantuan industrial complex.

It is therefore not surprising that Dangote refinery’s Nelson complex index is rated at 10.5 whereas most refineries in the US and Europe are indexed 9.5 and 6.5 respectively. This indicates that the capacity and quantity of its chemical procedure are more than those of many refineries in Europe and America

Evidently, Dangote Refinery fully aligns with global efforts to transition towards cleaner energy sources. While the refinery primarily focuses on petroleum products, it also includes a polypropylene plant, emphasizing a diversified approach that incorporates petrochemicals and derivatives.  

This diversification not only adds value to the refinery’s output but also positions Nigeria strategically in the global petrochemical market. Considering the grim reality of the grave carbon dangers associated with fuel importation, it is incontrovertible that domestic processing of oil by Dangote refinery will minimize carbon emissions and promote a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy supply chain in Nigeria.

Akoshile, an environmental journalist and Doctoral researcher on dynamics of climate change, wrote via