Process Engineering lecturer receives R5 M research funding from the UK
16 May

By: Rozanne Engel, Corporate Communication Dr Margreth Tadie, a lecturer in the Process Engineering Department at Stellenbosch University (SU), is one of 30 scientists in Africa to have been selected for the FLAIR (Future Leaders – African Independent Research) research fellowships. FLAIR is a two-year programme of The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the Royal Society, with support from the United Kingdom’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), and is designed to help talented early-career researchers whose science is focused on the needs of the continent, establish independent careers at African institutions and ultimately, their own research groups. Each scientist receives £300,000 (R5 472 003) over the two-year fellowship to help them with independent research. She was part of a competitive pool of 700 applicants across the continent. “It’s such an honour to receive this fellowship from them. What they are about is supporting African research and supporting excellent researchers in Africa to be able to become leaders within their respective research fields. I’m passionate about mineral resources in Africa and I’m passionate about what they can do for the continent. There is such incredible wealth in Africa, yet when you look at Africa, we are one of the poorest continents in the world and I’m not happy with that. My heart is really into looking at what we can do better with our resources for our continent and our people.” Dr Tadie says she recognises the significant impact this fellowship will have on her teaching at SU and hopefully inspiring other young engineers in Africa. “I am very conscious of being in the minority within the mining industry, but I’m so open to that challenge, because we need more role-models. Where women have paved the way in other industries, I am very conscious of the fact that I have the opportunity to be that for those who are coming up behind me. We need more women who are brave enough to go in and who are brave enough to do cutting edge research, to be brave enough to be on the mines and do good work. I hope to impart that heart for responsible mining and responsible engineering.” Dr Tadie’s research project will specifically look at the waste left behind from gold mines in South Africa and she aims to develop a framework strategy that looks at sustainable ways to extract minerals so that less waste is created in the process. She hopes that this framework strategy will be applied to different sites and eventually influence policy change within the mining industry. In 2017, Statistics South Africa reported that the mining industry is slowly declining on a yearly basis. However, the mass amount of waste left behind continues to have a huge environmental impact on the mining communities in South Africa, and the rest of Africa. “There are tons of waste heaps that are a legacy of the success of gold mining and those waste heaps are taking up land and are creating pollution. The environmental impact is quite significant and this project is aimed at finding ways and developing a process that will deal with this waste.” For Dr Tadie, doing research on mining waste is not just motivated by her academic aspirations but it has also been fuelled by her deep personal experiences of growing up on the dusty mines in her home country of Zimbabwe. “In many ways mining is who I am. I grew up in a mining community and for the people who live within these communities the mine is their life. Your father works in the mine, you work in the mine, your children work in the mine and no matter where you are – whether you are the lowest or highest paid, the mine becomes you. Although I am in academia now and not physically on the mine, I still identify with the mine and hope that my research can help change mining policies within Africa.” Dr Tadie’s father has been working on mines for over forty years and she says being exposed to that environment all her life has had a huge impact on her motivation to help change the negative effects of the industry. “I grew up next to big heaps of mining waste and seeing all the dust that’s formed from that fine material, living in landscapes where the vegetation has deteriorated due to mining activities, stayed with me. Some of the significant negative impacts of mining can be prevented because a lot of it is policy and technical strategy.” The need for programmes such as FLAIR: FLAIR is one of six postdoctoral programmes being implemented through the African Academy of Sciences. “We recognise that well-planned postdoctoral programmes are critical in promoting scientific and research excellence and leadership in Africa,” says Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, President of the African Academy of Sciences. “We want to be catalytic in inspiring African institutions to critically think about the role of and defining postdoctoral programmes that suit their needs and purpose and can be instrumental in driving socio-economic development on the continent.” ​”The scientists selected as FLAIR grantees represent the next generation of leading African scientists, and we are incredibly proud to be part of a programme that is investing in them at such a crucial point in their careers,” says Professor Richard Catlow, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. “Fostering science and innovation for social benefit and prosperity is key to the wellbeing of any society, and investing in Africa’s scientific talent holds the greatest potential to tackle global challenges and improve quality of life.” The next round of FLAIR applications closes on 15 May 2019. Photo caption: Dr Margreth Tadie. Photo credit: Stefan Els (SU).

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Mother encouraged top graduate from Ghana
16 May

By: Corporate Communications Division/Asiphe Nombewu “You never really grow if you continue staying in your comfort zone,” are the philosophical words of Kwame Donkor (29) from Ghana who hasn’t seen his family in over two years since he began his academic career at Stellenbosch University (SU). Kwame will be among the more than 3 000 students graduating at the University’s April 2019 graduation ceremonies. His research for his master’s degree in Engineering focussed on water reclamation and biofuel production from paper sludge. He completed his master’s research under the guidance and supervision of Prof Johann Görgens (Research Chair in Biofuels/BioEnergy (CoER), and co-supervisors Drs Lalitha Devi Gottumukkala and Danie Diedericks from the Department of Process Engineering. The 29-year-old Ghanaian says he was introduced to SU by colleagues who were postgraduate students during his time as an engineering teaching assistant at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. “I worked as a student assistant at the university laboratory back at home in Ghana and most of the work we did was closely related to SU; that is how the opportunity to come to Maties came about. “I think it all started in between 2009 and 2010 when oil was first discovered in Ghana. A new programme had just been introduced and I was interested in oil production. But after realising the worrying effects of fossil fuels on the environment, I felt passionate about the issue and vowed to contribute to finding alternative renewable energy sources.” Despite being away from his family for so long, Kwame says his biggest motivation in life is his uneducated mother. “She taught my five siblings and me to grab any and every opportunity in life and make something of ourselves.” He describes himself as having been an average student back in high school before his father intervened and persuaded him to spend three hours after school studying with his brother (a pharmacist today), who was an A student. “My father locked me up with my brother and that helped me a lot. I had no choice but to do my school work immediately after school and that is when I started being competitive.” Kwame, who is currently based in Idas Valley, says that although his family will not be able to make it to his graduation, he knows that they are extremely proud of him and all that he has achieved. Photo caption: Kwame Donkor. Photo credit: Stefan Els (SU).

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Process engineering student winner in sustainability research
02 Nov

Author: Liesel Koch George Kofi Parku, MEng student in Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University, was chosen as one of 25 winners in the Green Talents Science Forum, 2018. “This is a prestigious award for young researchers organised by the German Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF). The forum entails a two-week intensive research visit to top sustainability institutes in Germany and also the opportunity to meet with experts in renowned German institutions,” says Mr Parku. With his research he aims to convert plastic and non-plastic wastes into useful fuels and chemicals via pyrolysis in order to create a more sustainable energy supply. He has built a significant amount of expertise in petrochemical engineering through his experience in past research projects. BMBF hosts the prestigious Green Talents – International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development to promote the international exchange of innovative green ideas. The award, under the patronage of Minister Anja Karliczek honours young researchers each year. The winners come from numerous countries and scientific disciplines and are recognised for their outstanding achievements in making societies more sustainable. Selected by a jury of German experts, the award winners are granted unique access to the country’s research elite. “The effects of climate change are becoming more and more visible around the world – even in Germany. This is something that this year’s winners of the Green Talents competition are addressing. They are making important contributions worldwide to creating a sustainable society with their work in such areas as water management, bioenergy use and alternative economic systems. I would like to thank them all for their dedication and hope that they will continue to produce many more good ideas,” said Dr Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, at the award ceremony. This year the jury has chosen 25 Green Talents from 21 different countries. See Mr Parku’s profile here. See all the profiles here. The awardees in 2018 attended a two-week Science Forum from 13-27 October 2018 leading them to different hotspots of sustainability science in Germany. Furthermore, the Individual Appointments provided them a platform to personally discuss their research and lay the foundations for future collaborations. If you are interested in the Green Talents Competition 2019 please register for the Competition Alert to be informed as soon as the next submission period starts. Photograph: George Parku (right) receiving his Green Talents Award from German State Secretary, Dr Georg Schütte.

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19 Jul

Written by Dr Kate Haigh Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Process Engineering khaigh@sun.ac.za Did you know that it is possible to print bacteria using an inkjet printer to produce biological photovoltaic cells? This is something I learnt when I attended a seminar on 17 July 2018 given by Prof Chris Howe from the University of Cambridge as part of his visit to Dr Robbie Pott at Stellenbosch University. The talk was titled “The Biotechnological Exploitation of of Cyanobacteria”. Cyanobacteria are more commonly known as blue-green algae, which are found widely in the environment. Water companies sometimes have challenges keeping their reservoirs free of blue-green algae. Some types can fix nitrogen and many can tolerate high temperatures as well as a high or low pH. This means there is a lot of potential for exploiting these bacteria. There are also some funky options for modifying cyanobacteria to allow for a wider range of applications although there is the risk that an ill judged modification will damage the bacteria. One of the earlier options that was considered for using algae was the production of low value, high volume chemicals such as triglycerides and hydrocarbons. Triglycerides can be transformed into biodiesel by means of a transesterification reaction. Hydrocarbons are also the building blocks for many fuels. The challenge with these applications is that growing the algae in such high volumes is difficult. An alternative is to focus on high value, low volume chemicals. One example is nutraceuticals such as Spirulina. Alternatively, one type, Phycocyanin is used to produce blue food colouring which was approved by the FDA in 2013. One of the most promising applications identified by Prof Chris Howe is the the direct production of electricity as a result of cyanobacteria producing electrons. Growing cyanobacteria in water means that electrons are produced and this forms the fuel cell annode (negative electrode). The flow of electrons to the cathode can produce enough electricity to power small electrical devices such as a clock. These devices are known as biological photovoltaic cells. It is envisaged that they could be used to power small off grid electonics. The next challenge is to find ways to increase the amount of power and develop useful devices. Part of this is about understanding the mechanism which leads to the transfer of electrons outside the cell walls of the bacteria. Designing more efficient devices is also being considered. This led to the development of ink-jet printed bacteria which can produce power as part of biological photo-voltaic cells.

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16 Jul

Six delegates from the Department of Process Engineering recently attended the 30th European Symposium on Applied Thermodynamics (ESAT) held in Prague, Czech Republic from June 10 to 13. The conference is aimed at thermophysical behaviour obtained either by experimental work, or by modelling through molecular and statistical thermodynamics. In attendance were Proff Cara Schwarz, André Burger, Hansie Knoetze, Dr Jamie Cripwell, Carla Latsky (doctoral student), and Riccardo Swanepoel (master’s student), all from the Separations Technology research group. The researchers delivered presentations on a variety of topics such as the experimental difficulties of measuring high-pressure phase equilibria (Prof Knoetze), modelling of detergent-range alkane/alcohol mixtures (Ms Latsky), and accounting for hydrogen-bonding in theoretical frameworks (Dr Cripwell). Mr Swanepoel presented a poster on the phase behaviour of solvent/polyethylene systems, and Prof Schwarz on molecular interactions in carbon dioxide/wax systems. Posters by Danielle de Klerk (co-authored by Drs Lidia Auret and John McCoy), Jaco Moorcroft, Ruan Hurter, and Herman Franken were also presented. Mr Swanepoel received the Helmut Knapp poster award (pictured), which is awarded to PhD students or young PhD graduates for the best poster presentation in honour of the conference’s founder. Apart from the busy academic program, researchers also had time to experience the sights of the thousand-year-old city, such as a boat cruise banquet on the Vltava River, organised by the conference committee (pictured).

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Research Chair in Sugarcane Biorefining
03 May

written by Liesel Koch, Dean’s Office, Faculty of Engineering This year, a DST/NRF SA Research Chair in Sugarcane Biorefining was established in the Faculty of Engineering at Stellenbosch University. It is held by Prof Johann Görgens, head of the Bioresource Engineering Group in the Department of Process Engineering. The Chair aims to broaden the range of products manufactured from available sugarcane to maximise the economic value extracted beyond conventional products like sugar, electricity and ethanol. The focus of the Research Chair will be on biomass fractionation, separation, conversion, value addition and new product development. One of the key elements will be to facilitate training of sugarcane biorefining scientists and engineers, especially at master’s and PhD levels. Postdoctoral researchers will also facilitate postgraduate programmes through supervision and mentoring. Although the South African sugarcane processing industry is considered highly efficient despite the high cost of cane, it has become clear that breakthrough and even disruptive technologies are required in order to remain competitive and sustainable. Prof Görgens says: “The new research chair aims to address the core challenge that the sugar industry has faced for some time, which is the need to expand the range of valuable products obtained from sugar cane. This requires extensive assessment and development to ensure that new, sustainable business opportunities are created for the industry, which is what the chair aims to contribute to.” The challenges facing the South African sugar industry are not unique. Sugarcane industries worldwide have been exploring the concept of an integrated biorefinery approach, in which sugarcane is viewed as a source of biomass that can be processed to produce multiple, value-added chemical and energy products. ​The existing sugarcane industry is well-placed to embrace the biorefinery approach as raw sugar mills already have appropriate infrastructure in place for collecting and processing bulk biomass, which confers a major advantage over processing of other lignocellulosic feedstocks. In addition, a sugarcane biorefinery should be self-sufficient in terms of outside energy supplies, thereby reducing processing costs and minimising exposure to fluctuations in fuel costs. The development of these new technologies is multidisciplinary and considerable collaboration is required with other engineering disciplines (mechanical and electronic), scientific disciplines (chemistry, physics and microbiology) as well as economics, in order to develop sound techno-economic justifications for the most promising products and technologies. Prof Görgens has longstanding collaboration with the Sugar Milling Institute, RCL Foods, and the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Fort Hare. Future cooperation will be extended to include local and international collaborators. At the end of 2022, the Chair in Sugarcane Biorefining will be renewable for two further five-year periods.

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19 Mar

“The Faculty of Engineering is honoured to be associated with you,” August Engelbrecht said to an audience of 300 people during a very special event on 17 March 2018. “Today we acknowledge school principals, their management teams, parents and learners for their outstanding academic results in the 2017 Matric examinations.” During the function, certificates of recognition were handed over to 49 schools on the Western Cape Education Department’s merit list. “Significant numbers of learners from these schools come to study at Stellenbosch University (SU), and particularly at the Faculty of Engineering,” added Mr Engelbrecht who is responsible for student recruitment and retention at the Faculty of Engineering. Schools were represented by principals or their deputies, as well as the schools’ top Matrics and their parents. In his address, the Dean of the Faculty, Prof Wikus van Niekerk, said: “Engineers make dreams come true! We believe we make a huge impact in society, by improving quality of life for instance by providing electricity and clean water.” He encouraged learners to consider Stellenbosch Engineering as their first choice of study in 2019. “Why study at SU Engineering?” he asked them. He then provided a few solid reasons: 1. The Faculty’s has an excellent reputation. It is the only SA engineering faculty that received ECSA accreditation the past ten years with no deficiencies; 2. The Faculty has a high success rate: 72% of first-years do graduate with a BEng degree; 3. There is a common first-year programme which provides some exposure to all disciplines. This allows students one year to decide which discipline they are really interested in. If their performance is satisfactory, they can switch to another programme in their second year if they wish to do so; 4. The Faculty has an excellent research programme which is strongly supported by industry; 5. Residence life in Matieland is phenomenal, and solid mentorship programmes exist in residences and the Faculty. 6. The Faculty of Engineering offers great support to its students. Apart from two personnel members dedicated to looking after the interests of students, there are also two part-time educational psychologists who assist engineering students with academic and personal challenges. The Faculty has a well-established tutor programme where senior students assist groups of first-years who grapple with technical modules. The audience also heard that 72 of the current 780 first-year Matie engineering students obtained an average of 90% or more in Matric. “Some of the trust that SU has placed in the Faculty of Engineering is the fact that close on one billion Rand is being spent on the refurbishment of the Engineering building complex. If you come to this Faculty, you will become part of a dynamic, growing faculty,” the Dean added to strengthen his argument why learners should choose Stellenbosch Engineering for their studies. The Faculty then played its trump card and introduced and honoured Janke van Dyk. Janke, who hails from Bellville High School, was the country’s top Matric in 2017 with an astounding average of 98,3%. And what is Janke doing this year? This bright young lady is studying Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University!

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Research group branches out for a day of bonsai
01 Mar

On 15 February, 2018, staff and postgraduate students from Process Monitoring and Systems (part of the Extractive Metallurgy Research Group in the Department of Process Engineering) kicked off the year with a social event: a Create Your Own Bonsai course at Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery in Constantia. Bonsai are small trees kept in ceramic pots, which attempt to convey the impression of great age and size in a miniaturised plant, through various techniques. The morning began with an overview of the artistic and horticultural basics of bonsai, including different tree designs and methods for reshaping trunks and branches, and a short discussion of plants’ need for sunlight, water and fertiliser. After a short tea break, the group had a tour of the collection of bonsai at the nursery, discussing different plant species and suitability for bonsai in the Western Cape, and admiring the hundreds of trees in the collection. After the tour, each member of the group selected a wild fig (Ficus natalensis) from the starter plants available in the nursery, and a bonsai pot from the selection of ceramic pots. Then began the process of creating their own bonsai: selecting the best viewing angle, choosing which branches to keep or to remove for visual effect, shaping branches and trunks with wire and pruning, trimming the roots and planting the tree in the chosen pot. Although several growing seasons will be needed before the small trees in pots really begin to look like bonsai, the changes from starter tree to bonsai-in-training were dramatic! Each attendee left the course with a bonsai-in-training and the care instructions to ensure that their new tree in a pot thrives and develops over the next few years.

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13 Oct

Riccardo Swanepoel, currently a master’s student in the Department of Process Engineering, was recently honoured as one of the top final-year undergraduate students for 2016 at the Rector’s Awards, hosted on 5 October 2017. The top student from each Department in the Faculty of Engineering received an award at this event. Riccardo recently made history in the Department and Faculty. In 2016, he achieved an academic average of 94.1%; only 0.9% lower than the highest academic average ever achieved in the BEng Chemical Engineering programme. In fact, during his undergraduate career he passed 42 of his 44 modules with distinction. Riccardo is also the only person in the university’s history to receive 100% for his final-year design project, and he received 93% for his final-year project, which is the highest result in the Faculty’s history. This project was of such excellent quality that it was included in a special edition of the International Journal of Chemical Engineering Data. For these achievements, he received the Chancellor’s Medal in 2016, which is the highest honour that the SU can bestow upon a student. To learn a bit more about the modest man behind the brilliant brain, we asked him a few personal questions. Describe yourself using three words. Hard-working. Social. OCD. Why did you decide on chemical engineering? Whilst at school, I heard it was a challenging, yet rewarding, multi-disciplinary course that teaches material that can be applied in many contexts other than engineering. It also seemed quite impressive after the 2011 Engineering Winter Week. What are three things you wish you knew when you started your undergraduate degree? 1. You should sleep whenever and wherever you get the chance; 2. Firga is hygienically questionable and should be used only as a last resort; and 3. A night cap, taken with moderation, is your friend that keeps you sane. You are one of the students with the second highest academic average in the Department’s history. What advice would you give other undergraduate students? Work. Work. Work. Whilst the understanding of course material and concepts are important, there is no substitute for simply sitting down and putting in the hours to cultivate a deeper understanding. If you weren’t in chemical engineering, what career would you have chosen? I would most likely have studied Actuarial Sciences.

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Guest lecture: Dr Laurentz Olivier (SACAC)
29 Sep

On 20 September 2017, Dr Laurentz Olivier presented a guest lecture on behalf of the South African Council for Automation and Control (SACAC) to students from the Departments of Process, Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University. The lecture was titled “The interconnection between advanced control theory and practice”. Dr Olivier discussed a range of topics, including the basic concepts behind model-based control, before showing the results of several implementations of advanced control on the Sasol Synfuels site in Secunda. He ended the lecture by discussion future challenges, such as the extension of individual model-predictive controllers across multiple plants and units, requiring a cascade-like control structure, and the parallels between this control approach and current developments in the “Internet of Things” field. Finally, Dr Olivier gave a brief overview of SACAC’s activities, including Control Conference Africa, to be held in Johannesburg in December 2017, and encouraged the students to become involved in SACAC events. The lecture was a great success, and we wish to express our sincere appreciation to Dr Oliver for his time, as well as everyone who attended this event.

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