College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Driving innovation at Unisa

Unisa’s Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability (NanoWS) research unit has been awarded a European patent for a unique African technology that can clean up crude oil and petrol spills in water while making both the oil and the water usable again.

"The technology can provide a viable solution in cases of oil spillage disasters, not only to South Africa and the European Union (EU), but globally," said Titus Msagati, research professor at NanoWS in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET). "The situation in Mauritius would have highly benefited from this process if it had been up-scaled to clean oil spillage of that magnitude."

"The fact that Unisa participated in the creation of the technology that addresses the problems associated with crude oil spillage certainly means a great deal towards the contribution of the institution to science, technology and the innovation aspects that provide solutions to environmental challenges," said Ayanda Noma, Director of Innovation, Technology Transfer and Commercialisation at the university. "Moreover, the South African innovation index is enhanced, and the EU presents another opportunity for global partnering and the export of technology."

In 2019, five patents were granted in the name of Unisa. Four of them were local patents and one was an international grant by the European Patent Office. Unisa currently has sixteen granted patents in South Africa, as well as in examining jurisdictions such as the United States of America, China, Australia and Europe. The university continues to enhance research and innovation both locally and globally.

"The awarding of the patent is significant because it affirms that our research enjoys global recognition while still remaining relevant to challenges that we have to deal with in our continent," said CSET’s Executive Dean, Prof Bhekie Mamba. "The researchers at CSET have stepped up by embracing teaching, research and innovation. The college encourages publishing in scholarly journals of high impact and with a high degree of energy, and we have now started producing internationally recognised patents en route to producing prototypes and commercialisation. We applaud the award of the patent, which will spearhead the drive for original and innovative research," he asserted.

NanoWS staff with Prof Bhekie Mamba (Executive Dean: CSET) (front centre) and Prof Thabo Nkambule (Acting Director: NanoWS) on his right and Prof Sarah Jane Johnson (Head: Research and Graduate Studies, CSET) on his left

Noma affirms that Unisa is one of the major players in knowledge generation and capacity development in the country. Over the past few years, the university has been in the top 10 institutions for knowledge production and capacity development in terms of master’s and doctoral production. This is also beginning to reflect on intellectual property (IP) protection within the university.

Unisa’s DITTC processed, on average, 30 IP disclosures for all the colleges within the institution. Similarly, it processes from 25 to 30 patent applications per annum in major jurisdictions. Currently, the IP portfolio has over 43 technologies in various stages of development and protected through different forms of IP protection mechanisms.

What’s next for the innovative recovery of crude oil technology? So far, the plan to construct a medium to large-scale plant is underway. The next phase is the improvement of the existing invention and commercialisation of the technology. At this juncture, Msagati says they are open to discussion and partnership with the industrial sector. The focus now is to scale-up the process and integrate the prototype to accommodate spills during off-shore and on-shore explorations. He concluded by saying that this is not a technology for teaching labs, but rather one for industrial uptake.

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

Technology made in Africa set to mop up oil spills and save water

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Publish date: 2020/09/19