College of Science, Engineering & Technology

CSET internationalisation pays off

Prof Diane Hildebrandt, College of Science, Engineering and Technology: Unisa

Prof Diane Hildebrandt of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) at Unisa encourages Unisans to contribute to teaching and research in doing their core jobs at the university. She believes that students and South Africans will benefit if they remain focused on this core business. She and Professors David Glasser and Xiaojun Lu were honoured at the 2020 Research & Innovation Awards under the category 2019 Innovation Awards with First Patent Granted in Examining Jurisdiction / Country Awards: Fixed Bed Reactor (Australia 2018).

Acknowledging how hard the research journey is and that it takes a long time to incubate ideas before they reach maturity, Hildebrandt appreciates receiving the Innovation Award and says it helps with morale and motivation. She added that since the intellectual property (IP) of the award is registered under Unisa, the university would benefit from the commercialisation of the patent.

Talking about the patent, she says: "Fischer Tropsch reactors generate much heat that needs to be removed in order to ensure that the temperature in the reactor bed does not rise so high that it damages the catalyst. The patent proposes using a heat pipe filled with a mixture of fluids as a way of tuning the heat removal profile in the catalyst bed so as to manage the temperature profile in the reactor. It will enhance the overall reactor productivity, increase the catalyst’s life span and make the process more economical."

Expansion of Unisa’s research capacity

Prof Xinying Liu, Head: XTL/FTS research group, IDEAS, Unisa

Hildebrandt and Prof Xinying Liu are also the recipients of the 2019 Million Rand Club Award where they worked on a Joint Research Lab with the Zhejiang University of Technology. Liu is the Head of the XTL/FTS research group in the Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS) at Unisa. The two were honoured to be recognised by Unisa for the outstanding work they conducted, adding that the award is a recognition of CSET’s recent

The project was granted to their team through competitive application to conduct an industrial-related research project in China. It is an expansion of Unisa’s research capacity and also the recognition of its excellence out of South Africa. "The purpose of this laboratory is to set up a facility to provide clean and sustainable solutions to the local industry. The projects allocated in the laboratory are to provide sustainable solutions for the production of high value chemicals currently used in the textile industry from biomass resources. The laboratory is under construction and was scheduled to open officially in early 2020 but postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic."

The pair reiterate that by working with researchers from Zhejiang University of Technology, IDEAS staff and students can get access to actual industrial problems, which are rare to find in South Africa. It is a very important training for students, as the research conducted is mainly application driven, which can be utilised in the near future. The experience gained from this collaboration will help to train students to be able to provide solutions to real industry. The advanced research facilities in Zhejiang University of Technology are also open to IDEAS staff and students through this collaboration. The setup of this joint research laboratory opens doors to access more funding from local industry.

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/03/28