Connecting the worlds of academia and industry to grow the green economy

There is a constant flow of valuable research produced by academics in the science and technology field, yet most of it remains “locked” behind the walls of higher education institutions, instead of being put to good use to make a positive impact on South African communities.

This was a big reason for the establishment of The Process, Energy & Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS) in 2010. UJ-PEETS is an externally funded entity that provides support to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) working in the energy, water and environment sectors.

“Our goal is to create sustainable, socio-technical systems that enable economic growth, but not at the cost of our people or the environment,” says Nickey Janse van Rensburg, technology station manager at UJ-PEETS. “We often act as an intermediary between industry/government and SMMEs wanting to demonstrate or develop specific services in the green economy.”

In addition to growing the green economy, the objective of UJ-PEETS is to improve the competitiveness of industry, which it hopes to achieve by facilitating more engagement between SMMEs focused on sustainability and the academic community.

“We are often the match-makers in these relationships, identifying appropriate technology for specific industry needs, looking for new value chains that support a circular economy, and linking SMMEs to experts at UJ who can advise on how to implement a specific project,” she says.

Strategically positioned in the faculty of engineering and built environment at the University of Johannesburg, UJ-PEETS effectively leverages the skills and expertise of academics from within the faculty, linking their research to strategic partners in industry and among SMMEs.

By offering subsidised engineering services, UJ-PEETS has supported SMMEs and industry partners to implement over 1 000 green economy projects since its inception, assisting with everything from research and development to the demonstration of prototypes to industry. During the 2018 and 2019 financial year alone, UJ-PEETS supported 150 SMMEs and 1 022 individuals with the provision of its services.

Most recently, UJ-PEETS worked with international partners and the City of Johannesburg to achieve a greener public transport system, supporting the roll-out of 150 diesel fuel vehicles that run on natural gas converted from waste, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as fuel costs.

“In 2019, we are supporting a Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit project to support a clean, efficient and low-carbon urban bus fleet in the City of Johannesburg as a model for urban bus fleets nationwide,” says Janse van Rensburg.

In addition, in response to the nationwide water shortages that currently plague the country, UJ-PEETS has also supported an SMME to demonstrate water conservation strategies to Gauteng municipalities, using innovative techniques such as an automated water balance structure, to help alleviate supply and demand challenges.

“I think there is still a lot of room to apply the resources available at universities and the work we do as researchers in order to make an impact in communities,” says Janse van Rensburg. “From commercialisation to industrialisation, and from piloting to implementation, the goal is to lead the fourth industrial revolution in Africa — we dream big!”

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