Maties renews alternative energy commitment

It’s been a little more than a year since Stellenbosch University’s postgraduate programme in renewable and sustainable energy studies opened its doors and welcomed its first students.

The university is the hub of the South African National Energy Research Institute (Saneri), a division of the Central Energy Fund (CEF), which is involved in the search for appropriate energy solutions to meet the future needs of South Africa, the Southern African Development Community and the region.

The programme was instituted with the objective of developing and enhancing South Africa’s capacity in renewable and sustainable energy while supporting growth within the field of sustainable energy by building human resource capacity, creating and disseminating knowledge and stimulating innovation.

“It’s a way of equipping scientists and engineers with the required technical expertise to unlock the country’s renewable energy resources on the one hand and implement appropriate technology for sustainable energy utilisation on the other,” says Saneri CEO Kadri Nassiep.

Maties is no stranger to renewable energy solutions. The university has established research and teaching expertise spanning a wide spectrum in renewable energy, from solar to wind energy and conversion of biomass into liquid fuel.

The university’s department of mechanical engineering has a history of involvement with the South African power generation industry, delivering valuable research results that frequently lead to improvements in the efficiency of power stations.

An example is the work of Professor Detlev Kröger, who was awarded an A rating as researcher by the National Research Foundation. Kröger specialises in dry air (or waterless) cooling systems and earned worldwide recognition for the successful implementation of his work at the largest power stations of their kind in the world — Kendal in Johannesburg and Matimba in Ellisras.

During the past seven years the department has also focused on bulk renewable solar-power generation, with the solar chimney-type power station as an example, where much research was successfully completed.

The university also has Professor Theo von Backström — an expert in wind turbines. His life-long research in turbo-machinery augments the thermal expertise in the department.

In the department of electrical and electronic engineering, novel electrical machines are studied to be used in wind and hydro-energy applications. A number of projects in energy storage, an important component of renewable energy systems, have been completed over the years.

The department of process engineering built and commissioned a pilot plant for the extraction of ethanol from fermentation wastes as well as for the production of bio­diesel. Professor Emile van Zyl of the micro­biology department is the research leader in the recombinant ­production of lignocellulolytic enzymes in yeast and filamentous fungal (Aspergillus) hosts in South Africa.

Van Zyl used genetic engineering to develop yeast strains for efficient biomass conversion to biocommodities, such as bioethanol. The department of forest and wood science and other departments in the faculty of agri­sciences have recently completed projects in the production and sustainable supply of biomass, an important aspect of renewable natural resources.

The Sustainability Institute, an international living and learning centre located outside Stellenbosch, in partnership with the school of public management and planning at Stellenbosch University, is involved as a primary partner in the ­programme.

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Sumayya Ismail
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