Making fortune from soda ash production

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Sulaiman Adenekan

Glass, paper, soap and detergent are just some of the those products that must contain soda ash.

Also known as washing soda or sodium carbonate, this is one of the most important organic chemicals in the production of afore-mentioned items.

It is one of the two main commercial alkalis which is also used for water treatments.

The Director-General, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Prof. Peter Onwualu, says soda ash is produced in form of white hygroscopic powder or as granule and it can be used as a final product in that form.

Onwualu says that recent trends indicate increase in demand for soda ash of higher density of approximately 1.2 per cent or more, and also having larger particle sizes. And that industrially advanced countries consume only grade 99 per cent which do not require process to eliminate impurities.

Methods of producing soda ash include solvay and truna purification processes. On solvay process which is also referred to as ammonia -soda ash process is the major industrial process for the production of soda ash which represent about 70 per cent of the world production.

According to him, the raw materials for this process are readily available and inexpensive. These include salt brine from inland sources or from sea, and limestone from mines.

He adds, “During the truna purification process, monohydrate process is used to refine trona ore because is cheaper and simple and about 1.8 tonnes of trona ore is needed to produce 1.0 tonne of soda ash, approximately 60 per cent sodium carbonate of the trona ore as mined.”

Onwuka notes that the three major end uses for soda ash which are glass, chemicals and detergent production account for about 74 per cent of the total demand. “The demand in Nigeria for the existing and emerging industries is relatively huge that can justify investment, considering the strategic location of Nigeria in the West Africa sub- region and African market,” he states.

Sourcing raw materials will not pose problems here because according to Onwualu, investors can easily get salt from sea water. Such places where investors can obtain the needed salt, he says, include the Azara-Akiri Rabia salt area, Keano-Kange salt spring; the Muton Daya, Gyakan, Toali and Ayaba salt spring in Adamawa/ Taraba States.

Others include Enyigba, Ameni, Aneke, Ikiro in Ebonyi state; Okpoma, Gabu, Ijegu, Onyi near Ogoja; and Uburu in Abia state.

Onwualu states, “Most of the brine contain high proportion of sodium chloride with minimal amount of sodium sulphate, nitrate and bicarbonate, and investigations have also revealed that Nigeria‘s coastlines especially around Badagry contains a high concentration of salt.”

Vice president, Manufacturing Association of Nigeria, Lagos, Mr. Godwin Oteri, says Nigeria is richly blessed with a number of resources.

He adds, “Raw material and the production of soda ash is one of such materials, as there is no company producing such raw materials in the country presently.”

Oteri notes that the major users of the raw materials are still dependent on importation for their inputs needs and that efforts should be made to explore the resources for the benefit of the country.

He says, ”It is also a known fact that soda ash, which is so much utilised in our country has not been given adequate publicity and attention required by the industry, though the effort made by RMRDC and the Borno State government in setting up a model catalytic factory should be recognised.

”This plant was to facilitate investment in soda ash production but due to low investment and technical capacity, the plant has not been able to produce soda ash in commercial quantity for the industry,” he states.

Benefits of soda ash production to consumers, Onwualu says, include lower inventory, lower cost of the local product, better control over the supply chain and lesser wastage due to transit while benefit to government are conservation of foreign exchange, employment generation, industrial growth and revenue generation to state and local government.

Those willing to go into this business may need to raise between three and five million naira.

Onwualu says that the total cost of production using solvay process is about three million naira, while about four million naira is required for trona purification process.

However, he also says that the return on investment is encouraging.

“For the solvay process, the payback period is one year and return on investment is 398 per cent, while payback period for the trona process is also one year and here, return on investment is 386 per cent.” he explains


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