Green Chemistry and Sustainable Solutions in Africa: A Conversation with Dr. Thompson Izuagie

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By ACS Green Chemistry Institute

Hear from Dr. Thompson Izuagie about the groundbreaking green and sustainable chemistry conference taking place in Nigeria this year, and learn about the region's specific needs to advance green chemistry.

By ACS Green Chemistry Institute

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In advance of the first-ever ACS Africa Regional Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry, we had a Q&A with Dr. Thompson Izuagie, Secretary of the ACS Nigeria International Chemical Sciences Chapter and Faculty Advisor of the ACS International Student Chapter at Sokoto State University. Dr. Izuagie is also serving as the Secretary of the Main Organizing Committee for the meeting which is being jointly organized by ACS chapters in Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria. The conference will take place May 5-9, 2024 in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Q. Can you tell the green chemistry community a little about yourself and your research? How did you first get interested in sustainable chemistry? 

A. My background is in polyoxometalate chemistry, but my research interests currently border on making hybrid materials from waste bio-resources  such as eggshells and waste seeds  for application in water purification, sustainable agriculture, environmental remediation, and energy. 

I first got interested in sustainable chemistry during my undergraduate project at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto when I tried to extract starch from waste seeds (including those of mango and African star apple) and use the extracted starch as excipients in pharmaceutical products. I was quite fascinated by the whole idea of converting hitherto what we considered wastes into products that could generate wealth.  

My interest was further kindled during my Ph.D. at Newcastle University in the UK when I read the profile and works of Tom Welton, the world’s first Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), especially those related to ionic liquids and their applications. This began to make me tilt my research interest in the direction of taking advantage of the properties of these low-cost and green materials to make products that can be applied to contribute towards tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges, especially those that affect Africa greatly. 

Q. As part of the Main Committee for the upcoming ACS Africa Regional Conference, could you speak to why this meeting is important for the region and the community?  

A. The meeting  which to the best of my knowledge is the first of its kind in the region  is important because it would provide a platform for scientists at all levels from the region to interact and network with experts in green and sustainable chemistry from around the world. We have invited speakers from the US, UK, Canada, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria. Also, as abstracts have been received from over 300 prospective participants from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Madagascar, India, Pakistan, the US, and Germany, the conference will provide a platform for these scientists to share ideas on their works among themselves and discuss ways to tackle some of the pressing challenges facing the region including those of lack of adequate clean water, energy, health, education, and the environment.  

In Nigeria, for example, there are still many communities even in cities whose source of domestic water supply are from wells and boreholes. Sometimes, these need to be purified before use, so using cheap and locally fabricated filter systems at home helps to reduce the challenge of lack of clean water in homes. Also, the prices of cooking gas in Nigeria have recently gone up astronomically. So, if people can develop local and cheap biogas plants, these could greatly help in tackling their energy needs at home. 

The meeting would also provide an opportunity for scientists to get more acquainted with developments and current trends in the field of green and sustainable chemistry. We are excited about the international collaborations that would be formed as a result of the meeting. Such collaborations we hope would lead to collaborative research visits, access to state-of-the-art research facilities in developed countries, and submission of joint international proposals in the future.  

Q. Why is sustainability such an important topic for this region, and why is it important globally for the voices of scientists from the region to be heard? 

A. Sustainability is such a central topic for Nigeria, Egypt, and Ghana because the region cannot be left behind in the global discussion and drive to tackle the global challenges. Also, adequate knowledge and expertise in sustainability would help the nations move faster and be better equipped to solve some of their pressing challenges of water, energy, health, and environment. 

It is important globally that the voices of researchers from this region are heard on sustainability issues because Africa  with a population of about 1.48 billion  is the second most populous continent in the world after Asia, with countries such as Nigeria and Egypt among the most populous in the region. Africa is also confronted with a lot of sustainability — related challenges including those of water, health, environment, and education. Tackling these challenges in Africa would have a huge impact on the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and indeed a tremendous impact on the world. Of course, the best way to do this is by listening to the voices of researchers from the region and supporting them in the best ways possible to develop local solutions to some of these challenges. These would also help greatly reduce the pressure on developed countries from researchers from the region. 

Q. What are the challenges of bringing a conference like this together? 

A. There are definitely several challenges including sourcing enough funding and sponsorships for such a conference, getting renowned speakers who are experts in the area to agree to come personally to Nigeria to deliver presentations, and getting good quality abstracts from participants from the region as not many have access to standard facilities for research and this has a great impact on the quality of their work and presentations. Occasionally, there’s also the challenge of virtual facilities and power for virtual presentations as these could sometimes be erratic in countries in Africa including Nigeria where the upcoming meeting will be held.  

Q. What aspect of green and sustainable chemistry are you most excited about?

A. I am very happy about the area of green and sustainable chemistry which deals with the benign conversion of the abundant waste bio-resources in Africa into products that can then be utilized in solving some of Africa’s most challenging problems, especially those of water and energy. This is quite exciting and even though there are a lot of challenges with conducting such research in Africa due to the dearth of standard laboratories and equipment in the region, it is quite gratifying to see that one is engaging in research that is impacting the lives of your people in particular as well as the world at large.  

I am also very excited about green chemistry education. So, as much as possible I also try to get funding to organize events that help enlighten people about the concept of green chemistry and sustainability and help train them on sustainable chemistry-related skills. Very recently, in December 2023, through the Sokoto State University student chapter, I organized a global challenges enlightenment and skills training event, “Tackling the Global Goals through Chemistry,” which helped train over 300 participants from various institutions in Sokoto on a range of skills including those of making a local water purification system, biogas digester, and production of plastic bricks from plastic wastes. The event was sponsored by an ACS Global Innovation Grant (GIG). Our 2023 Chemistry Festival event at Sokoto State University was also focused on equipping our participants with sustainability-focused entrepreneurship skills. It was sponsored by the 2023 ACS Chemistry Festival Grant. 

Q. What advice do you have for other chemists around the world who want to advance sustainability and engage their local community? 

A. I think I would advise them to be steadfast in their desire and try to engage more with international bodies such as the ACS, RSC, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) that support sustainability a lot. The concept of sustainability is very important but difficult to promote as it sometimes requires a rethinking of people’s conventional ways of doing things.  

Being a young chemist from Africa, I have had to confront a plethora of challenges in my bid to advance sustainability including those of lack of enough funding and facilities, lack of interest and support from heads of institutions and government, and others, but my network with professional societies like the ACS, ACS GCI, and RSC have assisted in some respects like providing some funding and research collaborative visits and also with training programmes and meetings that help keep you informed. So, I would advise them to stay connected to such international professional bodies and participate actively in their programmes. 

Q. What are other ways large organizations (like ACS, RSC, and IUPAC) can support and engage scientific communities in Africa around sustainability? For example, how can they help ensure the resources to create locally applicable chemistry solutions are available on an ongoing basis, not only through events? 

A. This can be achieved other ways like supporting scientific communities in Africa with reagents, equipment, and facilities for green chemistry research; providing research grants for green chemistry related projects; providing avenues and support for collaborative research visits to green chemistry labs in developed countries; sponsoring the building of green chemistry labs in the region; providing specialized trainings both in equipment and processes; and providing avenues for training in development of green curricular materials. 


A sincere “thank you!” to Dr. Izuagie for sharing his perspective on sustainability and green chemistry in Africa. You can register now for the ACS Africa Regional Conference on Green and Sustainable Chemistry and learn more about Dr. Izuagie’s many initiatives on his website. More information about the activities of ACS Nigeria International Chemical Sciences Chapter is available on their website.  

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