What you need to know:
- "There is a lot of pollution going on, and it is contributing significantly to environmental degradation and also affecting the health and wellbeing of the public.
- Professionals should jointly enforce the existing laws and guidelines to deter and control polluters. Waste recycling should be emphasised at all levels and companies should follow rigorous waste disposal process to get rid of toxic materials.
- Heavy fines and penalties should be imposed on those circumventing the laws. The government should introduce tax incentives and subsidies to industries to ensure they don’t continue polluting the environment," Javan Odenyo.
Javan Odenyo, 28, is a chemical and process engineer. He plans to invent clean technologies to solve Kenya’s pollution problems. During his undergraduate studies he participated in a project that involved removing residual oils from wastewater using natural absorbents as a means of purifying water. After that, he enrolled as a mentorship coach in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for children aged between six and 13 years, before starting an online sales job.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
At a tender age, I was fascinated and intrigued by how things work, and I wanted to learn more. I was good in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, which are key subjects in engineering. However, I wasn’t sure which engineering course to take. My father, Nicodemus Ochido who is a biochemist, introduced me to a friend who had studied chemical engineering. He is the one who convinced me to settle for chemical and process engineering.
What does a chemical and process engineer do?
This is someone who basically determines the quality of life that people can lead by creating things like pharmaceutical products, food processing devices, specialty chemicals, electronics and microelectronics, polymers, biotechnology products among others. If we were all to be taken out of the picture, there would be a huge gap in the market.
There are many other engineers in this field. What do you want to do differently?
A lot has been achieved by my predecessors already, and my aim is to contribute to the good that has already been established, and make our society an even better place. We stand on the shoulders of those who have already created a path for us. I am particularly keen to create innovative solutions to the wanton pollution that now threatens the wellbeing of the public in major cities in this country.
You seem very passionate about environmental issues. Why so?
The idea of leaving a place better than I found is ingrained in me, so it is only fair that we don’t overexploit the environment for our own gain while leaving future generations to suffer. To achieve sustainable development, societies need to find ways of meeting their needs without compromising future generations’ wellbeing.
How did you end up as part of a project to remove oils from wastewaters?
One day, while going for lunch during my internship period at a pharmaceutical company, I discovered that a company making food spices was blatantly disposing of its wastewater on open ground, with no regard whatsoever to the environment. I wondered if this was the work I was getting myself into.
I purposed to find out how a factory can purify waste water, and that is how I discovered the process of removing residual oils from wastewater using activated carbon, sawdust and clay, to make water recyclable. Professor Saul Sitati, an expert in environmental pollution, guided me and my project partner Alex Kogei through the experiments. Also, Ingrid Wekesa, the head of the chemical engineering department at KIRDI offered us the facilities to conduct our experiments.
What did you discover both in the field and in the lab analysis during the course of that project?
There is a lot of pollution going on, and it is contributing significantly to environmental degradation and also affecting the health and wellbeing of the public. Professionals should jointly enforce the existing laws and guidelines to deter and control polluters. Waste recycling should be emphasised at all levels and companies should follow rigorous waste disposal process to get rid of toxic materials. Heavy fines and penalties should be imposed on those circumventing the laws. The government should introduce tax incentives and subsidies to industries to ensure they don’t continue polluting the environment.
What challenges do chemical engineers face?
We work with processes that affect the society directly and therefore, our work has to be very thorough. If we mess up even by one step, so many people in the society will suffer the consequences.
Why did you join the STEM mentorship programme?
There has been a notion that matters to do with sciences are difficult. I saw it as an opportunity to raise interest and awareness in science and technology subjects among learners, especially young girls. The programme engages theory teaching with practical skills training that is delivered in a fun way to make learners more interested and willing to study the sciences.
How did you join the Stockholm Environment Institute for your fellowship studies?
I came to know about this organisation during my undergraduate course. I applied immediately but I was informed that only those pursuing Master’s degree courses were eligible. In 2020, after a virtual interview, I was selected for the Energy and Climate Change programme, which is what I am most passionate about. I was elated.
Talk to somebody interested in following in your career footsteps...
Chemical and process engineering is a good course. If you can find mentors early, preferably while still studying, you will find the journey easier because the mentors will guide and encourage you when things get tough. Their contacts can also open doors in your career.
In which areas can one in your profession get employment?
Most chemical and process engineers are sought after by companies that engage in large scale conversion of materials into products, such as those in the oil and gas industry, non-destructive nuclear industrial functions, environment and pollution control, pharmaceuticals, plastics and agrochemicals.
I enjoy playing football and reading books.