Date: Thursday, 14 September 2017
As I’ve spoken to many professors and students over the years, I came to terms with the fact that for Eritrean students, going to school is not with the purpose of obtaining certificates but it is all about gaining tools for future dreams and professionalism. Eritrean students are still amongst the best in terms of making the best out of what they have. And this specific factor makes the teaching and learning process in Eritrea extremely interesting as well as fruitful.
Wishing all Eritrean students a pleasing academic year, Eritrea Profile talks today to two students: Aster Medhanie and Sium Solomon, both seniors in the Department Of Chemical Engineering in the Eritrean Institute of Technology. Along with their team members Henok Michael, Samsom Mebrahtu and Tesfaldet Gebremicheal, these students dived in the field of chemical processing of potash. Eritrea is endowed with mineral resources that made these student’s journey, especially their senior year project, interesting. They went to Danakil depression where there is high concentration of potash; astonishingly, in some places it is found only at 16 meters depth.
Hello I am Aster Medhanie. I am 25 years old and I just came from submitting our final year paper which got amazing reviews from different concerned bodies. I decided to join the Department Of Chemical Engineering in EIT as chemistry interested me most in high school. And so on the orientation day I decided to study chemical engineering.
College was fun, of course. The most interesting part is meeting people of your age and same interest. So our days would not be tedious at all. If anything else, we got to enrich our points of view while sharing ideas.
My friends and I decided to challenge ourselves by looking at the chemical processing of potash. We went out of our way by starting with the job of a geologist, which is identifying areas rich in potash, extract it and process it.
Potassium is one of the three basic plant nutrients along with nitrogen and phosphorous.So far there have been no remarkable substitutes for potassium compounds in agriculture. Therefore these basic compounds I mentioned above are vital for the maintenance of sustainable agricultural cycle and food production. Around 90% of potash produced worldwide is used in agriculture. Which makes it peculiarly appealing and relevant to Eritrea as it is a country which for long has been working to insure investing food security. Potassium is also used in manufacturing glass, soaps, pharmaceuticals, plastics and explosives.
So, in our paper we zoomed our focus in the rich potash field found around the Danakil depression. It is an incredibly massive deposit of potash. We analyzed mainly contents of sylvinite, carnallitite and kainitite compounds. Although it was quite hard to get abundant information from mining companies, for matters of confidentiality, we do know from previous official records based to geological surveys that potash deposits in the Danakil depression have a durability expected to run up to 200 and more years. It is, indeed, a timely objective to design a plant which can boost our nation’s economic status since potash is a highly demanded compound for its multiple applications.
It was an interesting journey as we came across many difficulties that urged us to refer to several writings and rely on so many people too, who I think should be thanked for their contribution.
In our project, the non-availability of some reagents in our country made the accurate quantification of our small scale production difficult. We used other optional reagents that have versatile applications. Normally these chemical reagents are needed in small amounts and they should be customized to match ordered perquisites. While facing shortages my teammates and I kept wishing we’d have access to such things and many more to assist the students’ educational endeavor. Yes, education is available for all in Eritrea, but we wish that our labs were more well equipped than they are now. In our case, we had the privilege to use Bisha’s laboratories, but it would have been better if students could enjoy the diversity of apparatus pertinent to chemical engineering. Also, I would like to remind people to avoid thinking chemical engineering does not get to grips with processing. I wish for more awareness and consideration to our department.
When I was much younger there was this older boy in our neighborhood with whom I used to play football on weekends. He studied chemical engineering, so I was inspired to follow his lead. College is about setting a path for your future and on the way, coming across people of mutual interest and understanding; together you build a future.
For graduating students a final paper is mandatory. Hence, my teammates and I started thinking of possible themes for our paper. We had thought about so many things; however, at the same time we wanted to avoid repetition and so we decided to look into potash processing. Luckily our country is endowed with an immense quantity and diversity of minerals. Potash is one of them and it is generally a common name given to a group of potassium-bearing minerals such as potassium chloride, potassium sulphate, potassium magnesium sulphate, potassium nitrate and various mined and manufactured salts containing the element of potassium. The term potash arose from the traditional practice of producing potassium carbonate, normally used for making soap, by the leaching of wood ashes in large iron pots. The ash-like crystalline residue the remains in the large iron pots was called ‘‘pot ash’’.Like I said before Eritrea’s soil is rich in minerals. The Colluli deposit is located in the Danakil region. Colluli is approximately 180km from the port of Massawa. Colluli is located proximate to the key potash markets of the future. Demand for fertilizer is driven by population growth which directly translates to food demand. .
The Danakil region is an emerging potash province and one of the largest unexploited potash basins globally. Over 6 billion tons of potassium bearing salts mainly sylvinite, carnallitite and kainitite was found in the region for the first time in history at only 16 meters below the ground with 200 years of mine age. The potash potential of the region has attracted a number of major international potash producers.
The production of marketable potash from the basic ore may comprise a series of processes, including crushing and pre-screening, milling, flotation, drying, granulation and refining. And that is what we focused on.
The demand for potash is expected to substantially increase over the coming decades as the global population continues to grow by approximately 80 million per year. Potassium sulfate fertilizer has a limited primary production center globally because of geological scarcity. Our design is set to become a primary production center and is geographically and economically favorable relative to current and key markets of the future. Taking its profitability and its dominance in the fertilizer market into account, it would bring ground shaking boost for the Eritrean economy and the nation’s skilled work force.
In few words that is how I would explain our, not so easy, quest in making our senior year project worthwhile.