A Young Engineer From Niger Is Taking on Industrial Air Pollution With His Invention

Screen capture of documentary by SciDev Afrique on the anti-pollution invention from Niger.

You might have heard of Boyan Slat, a young Dutch inventor and entrepreneur who created a system using the circulating ocean currents to clean the ocean of trash and other pollutants. His project, The Ocean Cleanup, received a lot of attention after Slat gave a TEDx Talk in 2012 about it, attracting more than $31.5 million in donations from sponsors including Salesforce.com and philanthropist Peter Thiel.

The next young inventor seeking to help the environment just might come from Niger. Meet Abdou Barmini, 22, who invented an anti-pollution device that cleans the air from industrial fumes. Barmini says the device, called the APFI Barelec, will clean 80% of the air impurities coming from factory chimneys. If his claim is correct, his invention could prove to be particularly beneficial for low-income countries.

Here is how it works as explained by the Barmini himself in the following video  (in French) produced by SciDev Afrique, the african portal of the news site on science and technology for global development:

In the video, Barmini details the process of his invention:

The prototype is to be installed at the base of the chimney of factories expelling the fumes. The T-shaped device captures the CO2-containing heavy substances from the fumes via an affinity-based chemical assay that binds CO2 particles. The purified fumes are expelled via the other branch of the T-shaped structure.

Screen capture of Barmini standing next to his prototype via Africa 24

He adds that it is still at the prototype level, so a lot can be done to optimize the device. His colleague Garba Boubacar, a researcher in physics and environmental studies at the University of Niamey, Niger, suggests that:

les particules en suspension dans l'air ne sont pas constituées que de gaz carbonique ; il y en a d'autres que son invention devra fixer, pour atteindre un taux de purification à 100%

The heavy particles found in the fumes are composed of more than carbon dioxide; there are others particles that his invention will have to fix, in order to achieve a purification rate closer to 100%.

Barmini says he worked tirelessly for two years, funding his research with his own income to achieve the prototype. His motivation for developing it was to find a solution to his growing concerns about air quality and climate change in his country of Niger.

The World Health Organization reports that ambient (outdoor) air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 3 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012 and that 88% of those premature deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. By reducing air pollution levels, countries can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases.

Niger is a landlocked country in Western Africa that is consistently one of the lowest-ranked in the United Nations‘ Human Development Index. Furthermore, the West Africa region has been drastically affected by climate change in the recent years. Niger's economy relies heavily on mining of which uranium and coal are the largest exports.

Open pit uranium mine near Arlit, Niger by David Francois – CC-BY-NC-2.0

Therefore, air quality is an urgent and immediate issue for the nation that is already suffering from an extremely hot and dry climate, severe drought and recurrent famine.

You might ask, how is Barmini's invention different from other air purifiers? Here is his explanation when probed by the Organisation de la Propriété Intellectuelle (African Intellectual Property Organization):

Par ailleurs, en faisant l'état de la technique dans ce domaine, M. Abdou Barmini a souligné que les purificateurs ambiants existants sont des appareils électroniques qui sont utilisés pour nettoyer l'air. Ils le font en réduisant ou en éliminant complètement le nombre de particules nocives dans l'air (mais ils ne se focalisent  pas à la source de l'émission).[..] Les purificateurs domestiques se font souvent via un filtre.  Essentiellement, cela rend l'air sortant de la machine plus propre et plus sain. Mais cette technique présente des insuffisances. Elle provoque l'obstruction des mailles et ne peut faire l'objet d'une utilisation sur les cheminées industrielles.

When he presented the state-of-the-art in the air purifier industry, Mr. Abdou Barmini stressed that 1) the existing ambient (or outdoor) purifiers are usually electronic devices that are used to clean the ambient air surrounding a factory. They do this by reducing or eliminating completely the number of harmful particles in the air in the vicinity of the emitting source (but they do not target the source of the emission itself). […] 2) Domestic (or indoor) purifiers are often performed via a filter. This technique efficiently cleans the air coming out of the machine. But this technique has also its shortcomings. It can cause blockage of the filter's mesh and cannot be efficiently used for industrial chimneys.

Barmini's APFI Barelec does not use a filter. The prototype was built with local materials that Barmini recycled, adapted and assembled to his needs. Barmini hopes that his invention will be noticed by climate change organizations that will help him finalize his project.

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