About Plateau State > Articles
Engineering Challenges in the 21st Century: The Nigerian Perspective.
By Professor Usman Aliyu.
This discourse will dwell specifically on engineering from the viewpoints of professional and educational requirements to meet the gargantuan developmental challenges envisioned in the Nigerian milieu before the end of the twenty-first century. There is no doubt that engineering has witnessed phenomenal changes in the last century, driven primarily by society's rapid development as well as superior scientific and technological know how. Due to increasing global integration that is deeply rooted in human common destiny, Engineers will be called upon to solve complex physical problems far more than ever before; notwithstanding the failed engineering projects/undertakings in the past. It is within this broad framework that I will explore the pivotal role the engineering profession is expected to play in improving the quality of life of our people in the 21st century. Of prime concern also, is the need to chart the most probable course for the engineering education to meet the challenges of this century.
Finally, it is submitted that Nigerian Engineers should be at the centre of all infrastructural developments in Nigeria in the 21st Century. If this is not taken as an article of fate, Nigeria will continue to be a dumping group for products of technological advances of other nations.
The history of man and his plethora of inventions have not been accurately documented. The taming of fire remained the most critical inventions in the history of mankind because man could cook his food, construct basic tools from metals. Thus technological evolution started from Paleolithic period (Stone Age), the Neolithic period (Bronze Age) and Industrial Revolution (Iron Age). From the industrial revolution, technological development has grown in leaps and bounds to its present level. Engineering profession, as we know it today, is principally the originator and inheritor of most technological advances. And it will continue to so into the foreseeable future.
Consequently, tremendous advances in the quality of life, more so in the advanced countries than in the developing countries, in the last century came about through several engineering feats. As a matter of facts, engineering recorded some of its ground breaking accomplishments in the last century alone. Between 1900 and 2000, the world witnessed for the first time a number of inventions that are now taken for granted in our every day's lives. They include electricity supply grid systems, automobiles, highways, high-rise buildings, televisions, refrigeration, airplanes, spacecraft, phones, supercomputers, information superhighway, amongst many others. For all the aforementioned technological advances in the 20th century, the 21st century poses far more formidable challenges than ever before. The problems are currently manifesting themselves. Engineers all over the world are seeking ways to put knowledge into practice to meet these future challenges.
2. Overview of Engineering Feats of the Twentieth Century
In order to look into the future with clear vision, it is pertinent, first and foremost, to take stock of what have been achieved in the past century . Relying on extensive literature that abound, I have summarized the Engineering feats according to various disciplines hereunder. For the avoidance of doubt, most of the engineering feats cut across several disciplines.
2.1 Aeronautical Engineering
From the Wright Flyer to autonomous military jets, engineering creativity and ingenuity have propelled the airplane's evolution. This innovation has made the world more accessible, transporting goods and people around it, spurring globalization.
2.2 Agricultural Engineering
There is no doubt farm machinery that include tractors, cultivators, combiners, etc have taken agricultural efficiency and productivity to new heights, leading to a vastly larger, safer and less-costly food supply in the last century. For hunger to be vanquished in the 21st century from some developing nations, modernization of farm machinery should be improved upon and made affordable.
2.3 Biomedical Engineering
Twentieth-century imaging technologies have afforded us amazing new views inside the human body thereby revolutionizing medical diagnostics. Furthermore, the mass production of antibiotics and artificial implants has led to significant health improvements. Several engineered products spanning artificial organs, replacement joints, imaging technologies and biomaterials have undoubtedly improved the quality of life for many people.
2.4 Civil Engineering
The construction of highways in the 20th century is one of the most impressive achievements of that era, allowing the distribution of goods and personal mobility. A consortium of engineers built the roads, bridges and tunnels that connect cities. The complex road networks and high-rise buildings that form the sky lines of modern cities are clear testimony of the ingenuity of civil engineer. Indeed, for communities, farms, households and industries, a simple turn of the tap provides clean water which is a precious and necessary resource for the survival of man. Engineering advances in water treatment, supply and distribution systems have prevented the spread of waterborne diseases in most nations of the world thereby increasing life expectancy of their citizens.
2.5 Chemical Engineering
The construction of complex refineries for refining crude petroleum into various petroleum products has impacted significantly the quality of life. Propelled by engineering advances in oil exploration and processing, petroleum provides fuel for cars, homes and industries as well as petrochemicals used in end products ranging from pharmaceuticals to plastics.
2.6 Communication Engineering
From the wireless telegraph to today's advanced satellite systems, mobile phones, communication engineers have transformed how the world receives information and entertainment. This cornerstone of modern life has transformed the way the world communicates personally and in business. From switchboard to satellites, copper wire to fiber optics to nearly instant connections to the internet, engineers continue to respond to the call for innovation. Highly pure glass fibers now provide the infrastructure to carry information via laser-produced light to the extent that a single fiber-optic cable can enable almost-simultaneous worldwide communication and media.
2.7 Computer Engineering
A distinctly remarkable breakthrough of the 20th century technology is the computer which has significantly impacted businesses and lives on globally. Undoubtedly, computer is a colossal achievement that has eliminated many menial tasks and enabling new possibilities in all spheres of human endeavors. Engineering ingenuity fueled this revolution and will continue to produce faster, stronger and more affordable computers into the foreseeable future.
2.8 Electrical Engineering
Top on the list of engineering feats of the 20th century is electricity supply in which engineers made this possible, as they developed fuel sources, power generating techniques and transmission grids. Today's vast network infrastructures deliver electricity industries, there is no gainsaying that electrical energy has made our lives safer, healthier and more comfortable. The availability of electrical energy gave rise a wide range of electrical home appliances which include refrigerators, air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, electric cookers, dryers, etc thus allowing more people to work outside their homes. Household appliances in the 20th century eliminated much of the drudgery of everyday tasks.
2.9 Electronics Engineering
Starting from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits, electronics continue to shrink in size and grow in power and efficiency through ingenuity of electronic engineers. They underlie numerous innovations, from potable televisions and DVD players to other high-tech devices such as, making modern life more convenient. These technologies have given us a window to other lives, different parts of the globe and dramatic events that have defined the course of history.
2.10 Materials and Metallurgical Engineering
Materials/metallurgical engineers have over the years relied on the building blocks of iron and steel to create alloys with the desired properties. However, with the latest advances in polymers, ceramics and composites, customized and enhanced properties are now possible to create higher-quality, lighter, stronger and more adaptable materials for myriads of applications, including aircraft automobile bodies, medical devices, computers and home appliances.
2.11 Mechanical and Production Engineering
The design and production of different types of turbines, engines, tools, etc have had profound impact on modern civilization. Air conditioning and Refrigeration have given rise to numerous engineering innovations which underpinned this breakthrough. Delivering much more than conveniences, it extends the shelf life of food and medicines, protects electronics and play an important role in health care delivery. From engineering production viewpoint, revolutionary manufacturing practices have made cars more reliable and affordable to the general populace thereby turning the automobile into the world's major mode of transportation and an epitome of personal freedom. Automobiles remain a strong indicator of economic growth and a good indicator of societal affluence. The automobile symbolizes 20th century engineering ingenuity, with far reaching innovations made in design, production and safety.
2.12 Petroleum Engineering
Discovery of crude petroleum has continued to be a dominant player in the global energy equation in the 20th century. Petroleum engineers have continued to evolve new techniques for efficient petroleum exploration both on land, offshore and deep sea using seismic data.
2.13 Nuclear Engineering
The harnessing of nuclear fission technology in the 20th century provided a new source of electric power generation as well as new capabilities in medical research, imaging and food preservation. The engineering research and development that underpinned the creation of nuclear technologies constitutes one the most significant achievements of the last century.
2.14 Space Exploration
The frontiers of human capabilities have been vastly expanded due to exploration into outer space. As spin-offs, the space program has stimulated countless new products and services on earth, including medical devices, sophisticated weather forecasting and wireless communications.
2.15 Information Technology
Conceived initially through a series of engineering innovations to link research centre computes, the internet, as an integral part of information technology, has become a global communications and information system of unparalleled access. Not only has internet infrastructure redefined business practices, educational pursuits and other human entrepreneurial pursuits, it has become a veritable tool for social re-engineering.
2.16 Impacts of 20th Century Engineering Feats on Nigeria's Infrastructures.
Nigeria as a nation has benefited immensely from the technological advances of the 20th century. Consequently, the Nigerian engineers have participated in one way or the other in building most of the high ways, bridges, water dams and national grid systems as well as hydro and thermal power plants, unfortunately, Nigerian engineers were not challenged in the 20th century to be at the heart of all the key infrastructural developments witnessed by Nigeria at the twilight of the 20th century. If Nigeria is to become an industrialized nation by the end of the 21st century or much earlier, Nigerian engineers must be empowered to be the vanguard for the envisioned technological transformation. To be entrusted with the responsibilities of nation building in this century, Nigeria engineers must imbibe professionalism and highest ethical standards. Nigerian engineers must seek for knowledge and share knowledge with others, acquire sound understanding of the social, political and economic landscape of Nigeria so as to squarely meet the engineering challenges of the 21st century.
3.0 Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century
The engineering challenges of the 21st century as conceptualized by United States of America, a developed country, is reviewed based on the submission by their eminent technological thinkers. I have made use of the available information as posted on their website. This exercise is embarked upon so as to pave way for unfolding the engineering challenges envisioned for Nigeria.
3.1 Engineering Challenges of a Developed Country
An American inventor and futurologist, Ray Kurzweil, has predicted that "humans will learn to halt and reverse the effects of ageing, collect all the energy they need from the sun, and develop fully realistic virtual reality during the 21st century" . Against the backdrop of emerging nanotechnology and technology breakthroughs involving inhibiting genes and gene therapy, this prediction may yet become a reality before the end of this century. In a development, the technology thinkers of the United States commissioned by the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) have drawn up the "Grand Challenges for Engineering" in the 21st century.
The 14 grand engineering challenges identified are as follows :
· Make Solar energy economical
· Provide Energy from Fusion
· Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods
· Manage the Nitrogen Cycle
· Provide Access to Clean Water
· Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure;
· Advance Health Informatics;
· Engineer Better Medicines;
· Reverse-Engineer the Brain;
· Prevent Nuclear Terror;
· Secure Cyberspace;
· Enhance Virtual Reality;
· Advance Personalized Learning;
· Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery;
Though the sun out-powers anything that human technology could ever produce, exploiting its power is not without challenges. "Overcoming the barriers to widespread solar power generation will require engineering innovations in several arenas for capturing the sun's energy, converting it to useful forms and storing it for use when the sun itself is obscured," says the NAE. Although human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale, the NAE notes, "the challenge is to scale up the process to commercial proportions, in an efficient, economical and environmentally benign way".
Carbon sequestration is the capture of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and storing it safely away from the atmosphere. Several underground possibilities have been investigated, and logical places include old gas and oil fields. Concerns about leaks, however, will lead engineers to continue working on ways to capture and store excess carbon dioxide. "Human-induced changes in the global nitrogen cycle pose engineering challenges just as critical as coping with the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels for energy," the NAE says, "Engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better fertilization technologies and by capturing the recycling waste" the world's water suppliers are facing new threats. Affordable, advanced technologies and improved strategies desalination, nano-osmosis, recycled water, reducing water use could make a difference for millions of people around the world. Infrastructure in the U.S. and many other countries is aging and failing, and such funding has been insufficient to repair and replace it. "Engineers of the 21st century face the formidable challenge of modernizing the fundamental structures that support civilization", says the NAE. "Good design and advanced materials can improve transportation and energy, water and waste systems, and also create more sustainable urban environments". "Health and biomedical informatics encompass issues from the personal to global, ranging from thorough medical records for individual patients to sharing data about disease outbreaks among governments and international health organizations" according to the NAE. "Maintaining a healthy population in the 21st century will require systems-engineering approaches to redesign care practices and integrate local, regional, national and global health informatics networks". Although some aspects of the personalized medicine approach are in place for some disease, multiple challenges still remain in the quest for a widespread effective system of personalized. "They will be addressed by the collaborative efforts of researchers from many disciplines, from geneticists to clinical specialists to engineers, who are developing new system drugs and deliver vaccines", the NAE points out. The intersection of engineering and neuroscience promises great advances in health care, manufacturing and communication. Figuring out how the brain works and improving sophisticated computer simulations will offer rewards beyond building smarter computers. Such advances pay dividends for medical devices and for the brain itself. Nuclear security represents one of the most urgent policy issues of the 21st century, according to the NAE. "In short, engineering shares the formidable challenges of finding all the dangerous nuclear material in the world, keeping track of it, securing it and detecting its diversion or transport for terrorist use". All these have engineering component; some are technical and others are system challenges. In addition to preventing identity theft online, critical systems in banking, national security and physical infrastructure could be at risk. Yet research and development for security systems has not progressed much beyond "cobbling together software patches when vulnerabilities are discovered", the NAE contends. Engineering must help develop innovations for addressing myriad cyber-security priorities. Virtual reality is becoming a powerful tool in many specialized fields. Yet while advances have been made, virtual reality still falls short of some of its more ambitious applications. Fine-grained details of the virtual environment are impossible to reproduce precisely, and in particular placing realistic "virtual people" in the scene to interact with the user poses a formidable challenge. Personalized learning in which instruction is tailored to a student's individual needs has gained momentum in recent years due to a growing appreciation for individual aptitudes. Ongoing research in neuroscience is providing new insights into the intricacies of neural processes underlying learning, offering clues to further refine individualized instruction. Solutions will require contributions of people from many disciplines, and engineers will have roles in most aspects. The distinction between scientists and engineering may be blurry, but engineers participate in the scientific process of discovery in many ways. Awesome experiments and missions of exploration always need engineering expertise to design the tools, instruments and systems that make it possible to acquire new knowledge about the physical and biological worlds. In this century, engineers will continue to partner with scientists in the great quest for understanding many unanswered profound questions.
3.2 Engineering Challenges for Nigeria
From the Nigerian perspective, the engineering challenges of the 21st century are radically different form that of US because of her level of technological development and the deplorable state of infrastructural decay. From interactions with different experts across Nigeria, World Bank publications several research results at my disposal and Vision 2020, the following engineering challenges 21st century have been identified for the Nigerian milieu.
· Re-engineering of the National Power System Infrastructures to attain reliability index of a total of 1 day power failure in 10years and over 90% electricity distribution coverage nationally:
· Massive but prioritized constructions of dualised highways to link all state capitals and all commercial centres with feeder roads to all major rural agricultural settlements;
· Provision of clean water for all rural and urban dwellers through boreholes, earth dams and large dams;
· Tackle Environmental Degradation through applications of proven technologies to arrest desert encroachment in the northern fringes. Soil erosion, Pollution from Petroleum explorations;
· Poverty Alleviation Schemes driven by indigenous engineering innovations;
· Energy security and sufficiency through constructions of small, medium and large refineries, strategic energy storage schemes, Bio-fuels development and aggressive exploration of gas and petroleum in all oil bearing basins as well as deep sea petroleum in all oil bearing basins as well as deep sea petroleum exploration;
· Aggressive industrialization drive to achieve at least 50% local content inputs and comparative export advantages;
· Communication and information technology infrastructure expansions;
· Efficient exploration of mineral resources to create national wealth;
· Massive urban renewal covering sewage systems, water supply, housing efficient intra city transportation system;
· \renewal of transportation system to include high speed electric trains, fuel efficient Nigerian cars, mini and luxury buses; and
· Efficient health delivery system driven by emerging technologies to combat malaria scourge, sickle cells anemia;
· Security of life and property through application of high-tech for law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect and combat crimes, and
· Zero emission targets via application of smart technologies emanating from Bio-engineering (nano robotics) etc.
The final choices of the 21st engineering challenges are not entirely mutually exclusive but intertwined to secure high quality of living standard for Nigerians. It is recognized that Nigeria is richly endowed with natural and human resources. Through creativity and commitment of the Nigerian engineers within an enabling environment guaranteed by government political will, the foregoing engineering challenges can be realistically met before the end of this century.
The energy scenario appears to be the most critical that can impact negatively on the attainment of all other engineering challenges. I have therefore selected to look more closely on the energy supply and demand outlook for Nigeria up to year 2050. Based on our earlier research work , the projected energy supply and demand outlook by the mid of this century is shown in fig. 1. The underlying assumptions made are:
· Fully industrialized nation with per capita energy consumption of 4500 KWH.
· Electricity industry expected to attain technological maturity with loss of load probability of 1 day in 10years adoption of excellent maintenance culture, modern planning and state-of-the operating philosophies as well as professionally trained technical and managerial work force.
· All industries expected to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly-approaching zero emission targets;
· High speed trains and fuel efficient transportation modes;
· Residential, commercial and industrial consumers to imbibe energy efficiency/management concepts; and
· Electricity service coverage of 99% nationwide.
It is expected that the following will be admitted as electric power generation options:
· Nuclear power technology
· Renewable energy sources most especially distributed solar power plants;
· Micro-grids configured around small and mini-hydro schemes, advanced batteries, etc;
· Introduction of energy storage schemes such as pumped hydro scheme, compressed air storage for combined cycle Gas Turbines; three month on-site energy storage schemes for large steam power plants;
· Introduction of the emerging FACTS devices at critical locations to mitigate transmission line congestion, extend voltage and angle stability limits.
It is expected that the existing grid network will be upgraded to super grid and interconnected with the African Power Pool (Both West Africa and Central Africa) for Power interchange capabilities.
4.0 Challenges of Engineering Education
In order to meet the indentified engineering challenges of the 21st century, the engineering education must adapt and produce engineers of the required caliber and competence. There is need to develop a new body of knowledge that will serve as the foundation for the education of the Nigerian engineers in this century. The new body of knowledge must of necessity satisfy the National Universities Commission Minimum Requirements and the professional requirement of COREN. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)  the new body of knowledge should include the abilities to:
· Apply knowledge of math, science and engineering;
· Design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze and interpret data;
· Design a system, component or process to meet desired needs ;
· Function on multidisciplinary teams;
· Identify, formulate and solve engineering problems;
· Understand of professional and ethical responsibility;
· Communicate effectively;
· Understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context;
· Recognize the need for an engage in life long learning;
· Know contemporary issues;
· Use techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice;
· Apply knowledge in a specialized area related to engineering discipline;
· Understand the elements of project, construction and asset management;
· Understand business, public policy and administration fundamentals; and
· Understand the role of a leader and leadership principles and attitudes.
The overriding objective is the need to educate our engineering students so that such graduates can adapt to a world offer many technical challenges.
5.0 Concluding Remarks
In this lecture, I have attempted to identify the critical engineering challenges of the twenty first century which the Nigerian engineers must tackle to insure high quality of life for Nigerians. There is no doubt that engineering will be at the heart of the revolutionary changes in technology in this century. We will continue to see fusion of knowledge between physical and biological sciences thereby opening more research activities. There are clear evidences that at the dawn of this century, the unfolding engineering challenges include information technology and communication, the environment, health and safety, industrial technology and security. There are signposts that our current civilian administration is ready to move Nigeria to greater heights technologically as enshrined in vision 2020. My humble submission is that the Nigerian Engineers must be empowered to steer the ship or our technological advancement in this glorious century. Nigerian engineers should embrace professionalism and highest ethical standards, to earn such trust.