Did you know that in many countries collecting water for families is mainly women’s responsibility? So young girls are crossing miles for searching the water in horrible circumstances often without going to school and no positive future opportunities. Completely on their own. This is grotesque. This is an unacceptable situation.
Trans Africa Pipeline (TAP) is the largest, humanitarian civil engineering project of the 21st century that will bring fresh, clean potable water to millions of residents across 11 countries in the Sahel region of Africa.
We interviewed Daphne Lavers and Dr. Roderick Tennyson in Canada who are founders of the TAP.
Please tell us something about yourself.
Dr. Rod Tennyson, a co-founder of TAP, is an experienced aerospace engineer, one of two Canadian accredited researchers with the U.S. space agency NASA. He has conducted a substantial number of space and terrestrial-based research experiments focused on and developed from his aerospace/aeronautical education and experience. His scientific and technical abilities ensured that designing TAP was not nearly as complex as many seemed to believe. TAP utilizes proven, existing technologies already in full-scale operation around the globe but combined in a unique way to ensure the safe, secure design of the Trans Africa Pipeline – not quite as complex as designing space-oriented research projects that flew on both NASA rockets and the Space Shuttle.
Daphne Lavers trained as a journalist, with research and writing focused on communications technologies and the technology developed for broadcast TV, audio and transmission systems. She is the other co-founder of TAP, responsible for corporate communications focused on the project, public relations for both TAP and other organizations across media including video conferencing. Her journalistic focus is primarily communications technology, telecommunications both national and global and high tech, not focused on the user experience but the technology behind it. Her journalistic training and use of writing skills includes a number of projects in corporate communications, particularly in scientific and high-tech arenas.
The TAP Projected Route
1. WHEN DID THE CONCEPT OF THE TRANS AFRICAN PIPELINE BEGIN AND WHY – THE THREE MOST FORCEFUL DRIVERS TO LAUNCH TAP?
Over the years, Lavers and Tennyson followed a number of international concerts and projects focused on relieving the deadly droughts across Africa, concerts such as the Live Aid/Bob Geldof productions, and large-scale commitments from the global G20 government-based groups. At the time, both worked for a fibre optic sensing company launched by Dr. Tennyson as chief scientist. Many of the projects, plans and performances were repeated year after year; they realized that they were seeing the same kinds of promises, plans, concepts and designs over 10-15 years, but nothing was having a long-lasting effect in Africa.
Tennyson and Lavers were researching large-scale pipelines for the potential of fibre optic sensing to track pipeline security, flow rates and repair requirements. TAP contacted major oil and gas companies to test possible interest in fibre optic sensing systems on the hundreds of miles of pipelines which would allow them to check pipeline operations and stability by satellite.
These major pipeline projects prompted Lavers to ask her co-founder, “This is just a pipeline – does it matter if this is oil, gas or water?” Rod’s interest was piqued, he became curious and sat down for a couple of days to do some calculations.
“No, there’s not much difference. A water pipeline is a not a big deal,” Tennyson said. In her pipeline research, Lavers had connected with a vice president of Haliburton, a global U.S.-based oil company. Haliburton had just completed a 2,400-miles pipeline, the Haliburton executive said, in Eastern Europe, to carry oil and gas. If a major oil company can build a 2,400-miles pipeline in just a couple of years, an 8,000-kilometre (approximately 4,800 miles) pipeline was clearly do-able with existing technologies and processes. TAP’s 4,800-mile pipeline design illustrated the feasibility and actual completion of constructing such a large pipeline; a 2,400-miles pipeline was challenging but eminently do-able for a company such as Haliburton, and of course, for other major global construction companies as well.
Why build wells all over the African continent which drain existing aquifers and often break down, when on either side of Africa are oceans that are rising and that are going to and have already displaced or drown residents. TAP could continuously take several million gallons of water out of the ocean and run it through a filtration system which is what Tennyson designed.
“I don’t know if it would help or mitigate rising of ocean waters, we don’t know that yet,” Lavers said, “we don’t know enough, but it would certainly provide easily enough water for an 8,000-kilometer pipeline. Canada is a very big country, and we have pipelines from the coast to coast. You know, a 5,000-6,000-miles pipeline – that’s not a big deal to carry the amount of water that we intend. So once Rod had completed his calculations, he proved that of course it’s possible. Innumerable desalination plants already exist; they are already operational. I don’t know how many Israel has but they have a ton. There are a large number of operational desalination plants in the United States and Saudi Arabia. So that’s all-proven technology. So, a Saudi Arabian company already in the business of manufacturing large quantities of composite fiberglass pipeline can manufacture the TAP pipeline that will carry 800,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day.
“What was frustrating was water-focused global organizations and non-profits building wells without ensuring the transfer of knowledge to local residents – teaching local people how to maintain and operate wells, pumping systems and treat water systems. The wells break down after two or three years; no-one local is trained to manage these systems; and no-one returns to check, maintain and repair the wells. In the meantime, they are draining aquifers. So that’s a lose-lose situation. The wells break down, women return to their traditional task of collecting and carrying water every day. That’s ridiculous. So, with 8,000-miles of pipeline across 11 Sahel countries, they don’t have to do that anymore.
2. WHY SPECIFICALLY THE SAHEL IN AFRICA?
Because so many people are facing endless drought, shortages of water and destruction of agriculture, that was a logical area to look at as one of the most difficult places in the world. The Sahara Desert is expanding by about 40 miles a year, so arable, inhabitable land is disappearing. The land is turning to desert. One large-scale project we began to co-ordinate with is the launch and development of the Pan African Great Green Wall (PAGGW). Senegal, for example, has planted something like 30,000 trees along their section of the GGW but since the Sahara is continuing to expand, more and more people are being displaced, migrating north to, for example, Libya, boarding boats and setting sail for Europe. Many don’t make it; hundreds of thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. This is a massive problem for both African and European countries. The primary reason they are leaving is that farms have turned to sand, agriculture is disappearing, and their children are dying.
3. WHAT DRIVES YOUR PASSION FOR THE PROJECT – EMPATHY OR MAYBE YOUR INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY?
It is the absolute, unnecessary waste of human life. Sahelians don’t need to die of dehydration, starvation, water-borne illness from contaminated toxic water, and ongoing attempts to try to continue to live in a desert. Humans don’t survive well in deserts. So, having seen this for a number of years, it is the same kind of effort over and over again. People end up having nothing, organizations have done phenomenal amounts of work for decades with no permanent solution, but Africans, particularly in the Sahel, are basically left to their own devices. That doesn’t make sense to me.
To a lesser degree, technology exists and has existed for years, which can resolve virtually all these issues given adequate resources. TAP is a great project which can save hundreds of millions of lives. That was most critical for me.
4. IT TAKES TIME TO CONVINCE THE WORLD ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PROJECT. WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WHICH STOP YOU?
The reaction that we receive about TAP is almost universally that ‘this is the project that will save Africa;’ ‘this is the best thing I have ever read about;’ ‘this is a project which will make a huge difference not only for Africa but for the world and it’s totally do-able.’
The best reaction we have received was from a Montreal-based Canadian philanthropic water organization with global reach. Their reaction was wonderful. Their response was “This is the most audacious project we have ever run across” and they realized immediately that it was totally do-able but very audacious. Nothing changes the world without audacious individuals seizing workable possibilities, taking chances, and making the effort to get things moving. And of course, it will work.
The biggest challenge has been convincing major organizations in the world with more than enough resources to launch, build and complete TAP, to understand that yes, it is real, technologically do-able, and has profit-making divisions so investors will receive a return on investment which will save millions of lives. To coin an appropriate phrase, ‘It’s not rocket science!’
The original hope for straight philanthropy, that’s not on. People want monetary returns on investments so a number of corollary divisions of TAP were designed which will return profits from sales of high-grade salt, small amounts of water sold to commercial interests, sale of excess power and the sale of carbon credits. That project design will enable people in the 11 Sahel countries to access clean, fresh water at little to no cost, while covering infrastructure and building costs, and some monetary returns for each of the 11 Sahel countries. Water is a human right, defined by the United Nations. So, one of the key criteria is that water for citizens must be at little to no cost.
TAP itself is totally non-profit. The other divisions are designed to ensure a return for investors which helps pay for the entire infrastructure as well as future operating costs.
5. WHAT KIND OF INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES ARE REQUIRED?
All the technologies for TAP are proven technologies currently in use. We have had substantive negotiations with a major French desalination company which builds the kind of desalination plants needed for TAP. A global-scale Saudi Arabian pipeline manufacturing company has indicated they would set up a manufacture facility in Mauretania to manufacture the pipeline. This would be perfect not only because of the creation of manufacturing positions requiring highly skilled employees, but also because transport costs would be next to nothing. We lay pipe as it’s built.
They are primarily only two fairly new technologies to be utilized in TAP – water pumps have been in use for centuries. Water pressure testing and pump capacity is very well known for every liquid, which is all basics of civil engineering. A new technology we discovered in 2013 and 2014 was called Lucid technology. A west-coast American company, Lucid developed an inline propeller that goes inside a pipeline and as the water flows through the pipeline to provide water to whoever needs it, the in-line propeller turns a turbine that creates power. Lucid is now fully operational in several American city water systems and expressed keen interest in the use of Lucid technology in a pipeline the size of TAP’s. When I first got in touch with them, I spoke with the founder; he said this is a perfect application for Lucid because while the power output is not massive, it is easily sufficient to power pumps all along the pipeline.
The only other new technology to be deployed by TAP – which is actually not so new anymore –is the use of fibre optic sensors on the pipeline itself. The sensor capability provides status monitoring and updates on pipeline operations read remotely using ground-based monitoring systems and satellite transmission. That’s already being done.
The foundational technology, a Fibre Bragg optical sensor system, was invented by Canadian researchers a number of years ago. FoxTek, the company founded by Dr. Tennyson, commercialized and substantially modified and improved that. FoxTek was eventually taken over by another sensor manufacturer but the notion of putting of a fibre optic sensor line on a pipeline was fairly new. TAP has investigated the possibility of using a fibre optic trunk line on the TAP pipeline, which can substantially change and expand basic communications within Africa.
When TAP began developing power sources for the pipeline, the non-invasive and non-destructive power sources from Lucid Technologies is a minor power source that can be incorporated all along the pipeline. We are also looking at and specifying massive solar power farms; these solar power farms will create enough power to not only run TAP, but sufficiently more that we will be able to sell 10 to 15% of that power at very good rates to each of the local governments along the 11 countries of the Sahel. Each government could receive 10-15 % of that power for residential or commercial use and charge various or no rates at their discretion. TAP power requirements will be utilized for desalination plants, pumps along the entire route, housing and mechanical compounds along the route.
6. WHO IS YOUR BIGGEST SUPPORT AND WHICH COMPANIES WOULD BE THE MOST POWEFUL SUPPORT TO BUILD TAP LIKE F. EX OBAMA FOUNDATION, FINANCIAL AND INDUSTRY SECTOR?
They are many and all of them are far too oversubscribed. They read about a project like TAP and their reaction seems to be – “this is too big for us to handle.” The Gates Foundation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and many more, we have approached virtually every major organization in the world, and it is the size of the project – even if they are spending 40-50 billion for aid in Africa – they do not seem to automatically see the importance of water, helping to save the Sahel, or that is part of the continent. We’ve contacted so many of the major foundations, the African Union, various sectors in the UN, the High-Level Commission on Desertification of Africa, Engineers Without Borders… we have been in contact with all of them, but it seems that at least in Canada and some in North America, the really big projects even engineers can’t seem to get their minds around – especially during this global pandemic. They seem to prefer smaller projects where they can build projects with smaller amount of both funds and land.
7. IS THERE ANY WAY TO SIGN A CENTRALIZED AGREEMENT WITHIN THESE 11 COUNTRIES?
[TO AGREE WITH IN F. EX AFRICAN UNION?]??
Actually, Diana we already have that. We have a signed memorandum of understanding with all 11 countries and those 11 countries banded together under the umbrella of the Pan African Great Green Wall (PAGGW). Those 11 countries signed an agreement with TAP trough PAGGW. Individual countries also signed on because a number of them are landlocked – they have no ocean water source.
This pipeline will go from Mauretania and Senegal on the west all across the Sahel to Sudan. So, over the 5-6 years we have worked with PAN Africa GGW secured that agreement, we also signed an agreement with the government of Mauretania for approximately 4,000 hectares of land. TAP won’t own that land, but the government allocated TAP 4,000 hectares of land near the ocean for construction of the first big desalination plant.
Senegal, as other countries, is interested and has already started planting their trees as part of their segment of the Great Green Wall. An issue that became evident in the last 5-10 years when PAGGW first started was then-current rainfall of 400 ml. of rain per year – sufficient to support the kind of drought-resistant trees necessary for the Great Green Wall. But it appears that even that small amount of rainfall has decreased with the strengthening of global warming, and with almost or no water, the lifespan of the Great Green Wall may not be sufficient to complete its mission.
8. HOW OFTEN DO YOU ATTEND FORUMS RELATED TO WATER LIKE F. EX WORLD WATER WEEK WE USE TO HAVE IN SWEDEN EVERY YEAR AT STOCKHOM INTERNATIONAL WATER INSTITUTE WHERE PRINCESS VICTORIA OF SWEDEN IS SHARING WATER PRIZE FOR THE BEST GLOBAL WATER SOLUTON.
At this point not very often. In the first 5-7 years, Rod was attending often but we need to be careful, we are non-profit, we don’t have a sponsor like Bill and Melinda Gates, unfortunately. And as a non-profit, we do not have funding for that kind of travel. So, Rod has given a number of presentations over the years, in Quebec, in Montreal, in Mauretania a couple of times. There was discussion about going to Senegal, and Sudan would very much like him to come to Khartoum. But it costs thousands and thousands of dollars for this kind of international travel.
Webinars are possible, we have access to video conferencing facilities close to us in Toronto. Until the pandemic most people preferred to meet in person. After the pandemic arrived, it took a few months for people to actually join Zoom meetings or online meetings. There was some concern about whether they could be hacked, if they were secure, where they had been encrypted.
With so much positive feedback, but little in the way of launch or operational support, it appears at this point that most of those interested in supporting TAP require reports on specific areas, which Rod has been providing for more than 10 years.
9. I HAVE SEEN THERE ARE SOME PLANS TO VISIT MAROCCO?
I do not know. Oh, we have some catch up to do. Hopefully it could be done online.
10. DID YOU TRY TO REACH YOUNGER GENERATION TO BUILD AWARENESS ABOUT YOUR SOLUTION?
No, not specifically because what we have been focused on was raising the first $1-2 million dollars for the initial foundation for Phase 1 of the project. We are 5-8 people on the team. Our focus is political leaders, economic leaders, national and international organizations and companies, social and community activists.
As the drought levels in Africa continue, we’re working still on securing initial seed money to at least get the final proof of concepts, and all specifics such as salt production, energy production, communications expansion. So, we take that to investors and say, here is what’s non-profit where we won’t make any money from this, here is what is for-profit and this is the kind of money that you will make if you invest in this kind of funding into this division of TAP. Young people have very good connections, but they don’t work on that scale. It’s also an issue of having the resources to monitor the activities of a young group of volunteers and staffers.
We had a teacher in west Toronto whose students were mostly from India and Sri Lanka. They were really interested in TAP, asked for a presentation, we did two presentations, and they were absolutely fascinated. They were very intelligent and understood information immediately. And based on where their parents came from, they instinctively understood how significant water is. They were very keen, did some fundraising and donated $320 to TAP from their school. They have all the technical staff and know-how to handle the presentations, their questions were very intelligent. The reality is that young people move on to new things and they no longer work with TAP. So, at this point, our outreach and projects are not geared to the younger generation.
In 2015, I was privileged to meet Madame Minister Mbareck Fall, Minister Delegate in Charge of Maghrebian, African and Mauritanian Affairs from Abroad, a marvelous woman. She knew young people, girls and boys, highly trained but who did not have work. They can manage a crucial role locally for TAP.
Their water, their country, their lives; if we train them well, they will manage and operate TAP on their own locally in their country. And when the time comes, they and their country will own that section of the Trans Africa Pipeline that runs through their land.
Reprinted with permission of The DESIGNER Magazine, Stockholm.
Released by: TAP, with permission from The DESIGNER Magazine