The sky is the limit for master’s graduate Bovinille Anye Cho
12 Jun

Bovinille Anye Cho, originally from a rural town in the southwest region of the Republic of Cameroon, completed his master’s degree with distinction in Chemical Engineering at the Department of Process Engineering, Stellenbosch University, in 2018. He is currently enrolled for a PhD at the University of Manchester. How did he get there? By dreaming big, working hard, and chasing his dreams with relentless pursuit. This is his story. “How did I get here?” is a question I often have to answer. “This question gets a straightforward answer if you can afford both the travels to United Kingdoms (UK) and tuition fees for postgraduate studies at The University of Manchester (UoM). However, it becomes close to impossible if you are the second born of three boys, raised by a widowed mother with no inheritance (every property left behind when my father passed away were seized by his brothers) and from a rural town in the Southwest Region of the Republic of Cameroon.” Bovi’s journey started at an early age. “I began working very hard in school and supporting my mom’s business in order to raise funds for my education. I performed well and was the top learner in my class at my school. I graduated in 2015 with a BSc in Chemical Engineering (3.50/4.0 GPA) from the Catholic University Institute of Buea (CUIB). Upon graduation, I extended my final year project into a business idea which in 2016 won the prestigious Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) award in Lagos, Nigeria, and the President Obama Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) in RLC West Africa award in Ghana.” He continues: “My research interest for a master’s degree in South Africa and profile matched the characteristics sought after in a Mandela Rhodes Scholar (excellent academics, leadership, entrepreneurship, and reconciliation abilities) and I was awarded this prestigious Scholarship (among the only six Cameroonians to been awarded since its establishment in 2005).” His cohort (class of 2017) comprised of 52 scholars which were selected from a pool of over 8,000 applicants from Africa and the diaspora. Stellenbosch University (SU) played a pivotal role in his career development as a leading researcher in the field of Process System Engineering and Sustainable Energy Production. Under the supervision of Dr Robbie Pott, he developed a novel thermosiphon photobioreactor for the project on reformation of organic-rich waste water into high purity hydrogen. This project has strong connections with his PhD research at UoM where Dr Pott serves as his external co-supervisor. Bovi completed his MEng degree with distinction in 2018, with a first-authored publication in the Chemical Engineering Journal, titled The development of a thermosiphon photobioreactor and analysis using Computational Fluid Dynamics. In April 2019, he was awarded a Commonwealth PhD Scholarship, tenable in the UK, which allowed him to pursue his dream of enrolling for a PhD at UoM. How does Manchester compare? “My experience as a Research Assistant at the Bioprocess Engineering lab (under Dr. Pott) at SU for six months upon graduation prepared me for my research at UoM. The unanswered questions of my MEng work became PhD research objectives, which needed cutting-edge machine learning strategies and physical modelling methodologies to resolve critical challenges arising from the design, optimisation, and scale-up of next-generation Photobioreactor systems.” The international authorities in the field of process modelling and integration, Dr Dongda Zhang and Prof Robin Smith, which he needed to guarantee success of his study are hosted at the Centre for Process Integration at UoM. Their close collaborations with academics from both the UK (Dr. Antonio del Rio-Chanona from Imperial College London) and other institutes abroad (Professor Keju Jing from Xiamen University, China) meant numerous opportunities for him to establish new networks with international teams, and raise his research profile so as to eventually achieve his long-term career goals. Featured photos: Bovi at the University of Manchester, UK.

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Ruan Pretorius the well-rounded professional Stellenbosch is proud to produce, says supervisor
26 May

Written by Liesel Koch: Corporate Marketer, Dean’s Division, Faculty of Engineering “Ruan was a supervisor’s dream: he was independent, a quick learner, and solved his own problems. Before long he also knew much more about the project details than me, so I could get out of his way and let him do the good work.” These are the words of Dr Neill Goosen, supervisor of Ruan Pretorius who received his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering cum laude in April 2020. The title of his project was Design and modelling of an experimental tilapia and African catfish recirculating aquaculture system. “My topic was very practical engineering in the sense that it was the design of a system,” says Ruan. “I liked that aspect of the topic and thought that it would be a good introduction to the world of engineering design. I have always been interested in science. I used to watch shows like Mythbusters and page through Popular Mechanics magazines when I was younger and it really inspired me to follow a career related to science and figuring things out. “My research topic in a nutshell was to design a water system that is capable of growing both African catfish and tilapia for research purposed at Welgevallen, one of the University’s aquaculture research laboratories. The type of system designed was a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), which means that most of the water exiting the fish tanks is reused after flowing through a water treatment system. The water conditions in a RAS such as toxin levels, oxygen levels and temperature can be controlled, which is preferable for research trials where water conditions can easily affect the experimental results. I used literature data and models to predict the efficiency of the water treatment steps in the RAS (biofiltration, solids removal, aeration, temperature control) and estimated the total costs of constructing the system. We also tried to re-use as much of the current existing equipment and infrastructure that is currently unused at the Welgevallen facility and luckily, we were able to propose the re-use of the building, pumps and fish tanks.” Ruan’s decision to opt for Chemical Engineering was inspired by his father’s field of study. “My dad studied process control and instrumentation engineering and was a big inspiration for going into the process engineering/chemical engineering field. It also appeared to me like the most interesting choice out of all the engineering fields.” Ruan explains: “My research project will hopefully result in the system that I have proposed to actually be built. I believe that there is a real need for extra capacity and drive for aquaculture research as it is currently the fastest growing industry in the aquaculture sector. It would serve Stellenbosch University well to stay on top of the aquaculture research trends and I see my master’s research project as forming part of that effort. “I decided to do postgrad as it opens a lot of job opportunities and I did not have any other jobs lined up. I also had the opportunity to do a master’s thanks to the financial support of my parents. Doing postgrad requires a large amount of self-discipline and driving yourself to work hard over months without immediately seeing results. That was definitely a challenge, but it also comes with a lot of freedom, which I loved. I was fortunate to get a part-time job as junior consulting engineer for a salmon farm feasibility study in September of my first year of postgrad studies, which definitely added to the challenge of finishing my thesis. The past two years were definitely the most challenging years of my life, but also the most rewarding. I was able to get married, afford my own accommodation and lifestyle and build up experience in the real life industry at the same time. I would recommend postgrad to anyone if they feel they have the will and resolve to undertake it.” Ruan has a full professional and personal life. “Currently I am still working for the same company called Cape Nordic Corporation, which is finishing a bankable feasibility study for the construction of a 1 800 ton per annum salmon farm situated on the West Coast near Dwarskersbos. Additionally, I am forming a partnership with several colleagues to develop a company for seawater reverse osmosis desalination integrated with renewable energy. On the side I am also doing gigs as a drummer and keyboardist (pre/post-COVID 19 lockdown) as music is also one of my main passions.” During lockdown, Ruan has been able to continue his work. He notes: “My engineering consulting has always been from home and therefore I am lucky to continue with business as usual. Additionally, I have spent my lockdown longing for an ice cold beer…” He is clear about his future plans: “I plan to continue with the engineering work that I have been fortunate enough to get up until now. I also plan to travel abroad with my wife, taking on some overseas music gigs whilst working on engineering projects remotely.” His supervisor, Dr Goosen, has the last word: “The fact that Ruan worked for a design company specialising in aquaculture system design is a testament to the quality of his work, dedication and his skills. Ruan is exactly the type of well-rounded professional that Stellenbosch is proud to produce, and I have no doubt that he will do well in future.” Title: Design and modelling of an experimental tilapia and African catfish recirculating aquaculture system. Summary: The project focused on designing an experimental recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) for the culturing of African catfish and tilapia. The RAS consisted of fish tanks, biofilters, solids removal by sedimentation, aeration by a regenerative blower and airstones and temperature regulation by a heat pump heat exchanger. Existing infrastructure such as the fish tanks, building and pumps were reused to reduce construction costs. The construction and purchase of equipment was estimated to cost R 145 000 and have an annual operating cost of R 79 000. The system was designed to produce fish at a density of 50 kg per m3. Photograph: Ruan Pretorius and a technical drawing of his design that formed the main part of his research project.

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Carlie’s research on ‘French paradox’ compound contributes to patent
08 May

Written by Liesel Koch: Corporate Marketer, Dean’s Division, Faculty of Engineering “During my undergraduate studies I developed an interest in Bioprocess Engineering and wanted to work in the pharmaceutical or food and beverage industry. When selecting a final-year research project, it just happens to combine all my interests with my favourite lecturer, Dr Robbie Pott, as the supervisor and that’s how I decided on the topic. For this project, visiting wine farms is considered ‘research’ and who can say no to that,” says Carlie Kriel who received her master’s degree in Chemical Engineering in April 2020. “Dr Pott offered me an opportunity to continue with the project as a master’s degree. The title of my master’s was The extraction of resveratrol and other polyphenols from solid winery waste and an investigation into alternative resveratrol recovery techniques. I loved the project and felt that doing my master’s could help me develop several new skills.” Carlie explains: “Resveratrol is a compound produced by plant species in Vitis vinifera (the common grape vine) to protect the plant against stress. Interest in resveratrol from Vitis vinifera originated from the ‘French paradox’, where the French population had a diet high in saturated fats along with red wine, while cardiovascular diseases were less than expected. During the winemaking process compounds like resveratrol solubilise into the wine, while the rest of the resveratrol remain in the significant amount of solid waste produced. The aim of this project was to investigate if winery waste (skins, seeds, stems, canes and leaves) could be used as a source of resveratrol and other valuable compounds and if it could be recovered using alternative, low cost and environmentally conscious methods. A solution of salt and polymer would be used to extract the resveratrol from the waste products and should then be concentrated into something edible. The project focused on getting the resveratrol into a food additive (maltodextrin) or by binding the resveratrol to commonly used proteins such as egg whites and yeast extract, to be able to be consumed.” The outcome of her research proved to be very valuable. She says: “We recently published a paper (Quantification of resveratrol in different parts of solid Pinotage winery waste: Investigating the variance between consecutive harvests) in the South African Journal of Oenology and Viticulture where we provide more information about the resveratrol variance in Pinotage vines. This could possibly be useful if winery waste is used as resveratrol source. Some of the work in my project contributed to a section of a patent to extract and recover resveratrol with alternative techniques. This project made contributions to resveratrol research by investigating the waste of an entire grape vine as a resveratrol source as well as investigating alternative methods (not currently used) to recover resveratrol.” When asked about the joys and challenges of doing postgrad, Carlie replies: “The joys included presenting my work at a conference in Belgium, working with a great group of people in our research group, working on something every day that I enjoy and, obviously the wine. The challenges were lots and lots of failed experiments. Since the work was novel, it was difficult not being able to compare results or observations with other research to find solutions and resulted in a lot trial and error. “I’m currently busy with a few courses to keep busy and recently started a German course, while I’m still looking for a job. Luckily, during lockdown, I am with my family and I am trying out all my recipes on them. I basically just bake, paint, send out my CV and repeat. In the future I hope to work in the pharmaceutical or food and beverage industry and incorporate alternative solutions to make the industry more environmentally conscious.” she concludes. Thesis title: The extraction of resveratrol and other polyphenols from solid winery waste and an investigation into alternative resveratrol recovery techniques. Summary: Resveratrol is a phenolic compound produced by several plant species such as Vitis vinifera and is of interest as nutraceutical supplement with a significant market value. Winemaking is one of the largest agricultural activities in the world and produces significant amount of solid biomass waste, which is often rich in resveratrol. The aim of this work was to investigate, through consecutive harvests to estimate variability, solid winery waste as a source of resveratrol to produce a high value antioxidant supplement. As well as to investigate aqueous two-phase systems and protein precipitation as resveratrol recovery methods and improve downstream purification processes. Photograph: Carlie Kriel (left) and the magnificent Stellenbosch vineyards.

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Second international academic adventure awaits Engineering alumnus
06 Aug

A second international academic adventure awaits Bovinille Anye Cho in September 2019. Bovinille, who hails from Cameroon, obtained his MEng in Chemical Engineering cum laude in December 2018 at Stellenbosch University and is now ready to tackle his PhD studies at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. This bright student completed his undergraduate engineering studies at the Catholic University Institute of Buea in Cameroon and came to Stellenbosch for his master’s degree on a prestigiously awarded Mandela Rhodes Scholarship (among the only five Cameroonians to have been awarded since its establishment in 2005). The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship programme is a combination of financial support for postgraduate studies and a high-quality leadership development programme, with the intention of building exceptional leadership capacity in Africa. Bovinille says: “This prestigious bursary allows you to study for an honours or master’s degree at a South African university and I applied to the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Mieke de Jager, postgraduate and research admin manager in the Department of Process Engineering at Stellenbosch, replied to my email query within five minutes and supplied a list of potential supervisors. Her quick response impressed me greatly and was the main reason why I came to Stellenbosch. “The topic of my master’s thesis was: The development and characterization of a thermosiphon photobioreactor for the cultivation of photosynthetic bacteria. Under the supervision of Dr Robbie Pott, this MEng work yielded an internationally recognised publication in the Chemical Engineering Journal – Elsevier (6.735 Impact Factor) titled “The development of a thermosiphon photobioreactor and analysis using Computational Fluid Dynamics”. After completing my master’s, I worked as a research assistant in the Department of Process Engineering from January this year until mid-July. He continues: “The external examiner for my master’s thesis, Dr Dongda Zhang from the University of Manchester (UoM), was impressed by my work and gladly accepted to supervise my PhD at UoM in collaborations with international leading groups in South Africa (Stellenbosch University – Dr Robbie Pott), United Kingdom (Imperial College – Dr Antonio del Rio-Chanona) and China (Xiamen University – Prof Keju Jing). I have always wanted to study in the United Kingdom and applied for, and received a Commonwealth PhD Scholarship, funded by the UK Department for International Development. These scholarships are for low- and middle-income Commonwealth countries for a full-time PhD studies at a UK university. “To come into consideration for such a scholarship, you have to be academically outstanding in terms of your grades, have a publication record, have the ability to develop solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), have a track record of leadership, and lastly, have shown a willingness to participate in volunteering activities without being paid.” Regarding his second international academic adventure in three years, Bovinille exclaims: “I am very excited about studying at the University of Manchester and look forward to my time there. My ultimate goal is to return to my country, Cameroon, and to apply my knowledge there.” Photo: High-value products and biofuel production from photosynthetic microorganisms is a promising research field. A team in the Department of Process Engineering under the supervision of Dr Robbie Pott have been involved in the design, manufacturing and testing of an Outdoor Bubble Column Photobioreactor. At the bioreactor, manufactured in the Process Engineering Workshop, are from the left Hester Stofberg (final year), Bovinille Anye Cho (2018 MEng cum laude graduate), Fred Spackman (visiting researcher from the University of East Anglia, UK) and Jos Weerdenburg (Chief Mechanician).

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