Olatunbosun Obayomi is a microbiologist and inventor from Lagos, Nigeria. Obayomi’s research spans hydrogen biogas reactors, ecological engines, and microbial fuel cells. He is the founder of Bio Applications Initiative in Lagos, which focuses on the production of energy from organic waste, using green biogas technology to solve pressing needs related to energy supply, food production, and sanitation in the developing world. Obayomi has produced simple biogas plants for converting paper, animal, and human waste into energy. He has also retrofitted a conventional septic tank into a biogas plant. A graduate of microbiology from Olabisi Onabanjo University in Nigeria, Obayomi is a member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). He was a TEDGlobal Fellow in 2010 and a TEDIndia Fellow in 2009. His efforts have been celebrated in Nigeria as well; in 2008 he was honored with the Nigerian Youth Leadership Award, presented by LEAP Africa.
Obayomi is part of the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s “Lab Team New York.” In each of the nine cities visited by the Lab, a new team convenes to develop ideas around the theme and help design a roster of public programming. For an overview of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, click here.
The city can be likened to a living microbe.
Given your background in microbiology and waste and energy production, did your scientific knowledge come in to play in designing the lab and its transportation around the world?
The city can be likened to a living microbe. A city operates as a combination of systems (transportation, sewer, telecommunication, governance, etc.) coming together to aid movement and production. In science, a microorganism also combines various systems (cell walls, mitochondria, plasma, etc.) to move and produce.
The BMW Guggenheim Lab is designed as a system within the city system. As it travels around the world, it fits into individual city systems and will eventually help make each move and produce more efficiently.
In what other ways is the BMW Guggenheim Mobile Lab similar to a scientific laboratory?
Exploration in a conventional lab requires asking thought-provoking questions, developing procedures to answer those questions and propounding theories. At the BMW Guggenheim Lab we are asking questions about city life, we have developed procedures to answer those questions and we are coming up with solutions for the city.
The Lab is designed as a system within the city system. As it travels around the world, it can help make each place move and produce more efficiently.
Lagos has a very different growth patterns to New York or Berlin. How has your experience in and knowledge of Lagos informed your work on the Guggenheim Lab?
I have learned that both cities share the same challenges but on different scales. While pondering the issues presented by the Lab, I have come to realize that weak urban planning has lead to many of the significant problems affecting Lagos and New York, especially in wastewater management. I believe that we can help solve these problems only by going back to the basics of urban planning and tinkering innovatively with the existing infrastructure.
What are some ways in which sustainable and recycled energy systems could be readily implemented within the existing infrastructure in New York?
That can be achieved through a combination of a least three infrastructural systems: wastewater treatment plants, the existing street grid and sewer pipes.
We could harness energy from mini sewage treatment plants (biogas) located every 20 blocks that could treat the area’s wastewater while providing part of the energy for running the plant itself. The sewer pipes within these blocks could be reconfigured to carry only sanitary wastewater to the plant while conveying stormwater directly to the waterfront. This would eventually lead to the halt of combined sewer outflows and the use of the existing sewer pipes for stormwater harvesting.
What have you learned through the collaborative process of developing the agenda for the Mobile Lab?
The collaborative process has been an experiment whereby you bring various individuals from various backgrounds that have no previous knowledge of one another and expect them to come up with an agenda for the lab within three weeks. The whole concept of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is an experiment. The lab itself is a place for the experimentations of ideas. A fertile ground for ideas to generate solutions.
Click through to read an introduction to the BMW Guggenheim Lab, and interviews with Maria Nicanor, Omar Freilla, Charles Montgomery, and Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman.