SI’s New Partner

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Stellenbosch University has been awarded the responsibility to act as the hub of the new Postgraduate Programme in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies by the newly formed South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI), a division of the Central Energy Fund (CEF).  The hub will be supplemented by a number of research chairs forming the spokes of a hub and spoke model.

The official launch of the Programme took place on Thursday 3rd August at the Sustainability Institute in Lynedoch/Stellenbosch when the contract was signed by Prof Walter Claassen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) of Stellenbosch University and Mr Mphuthumi Damane, Chair of the Board of SANERI and CEO of the Central Energy Fund.  During the event Mr Kevin Nassiep, the recently appointed CEO of SANERI, acted as the Master of Ceremony.

The overall objective of this initiative is to develop and enhance national capacity in renewable and sustainable energy in support of accelerated and shared economic growth within the area of sustainable energy.  This will be achieved by building the human resource capacity, create and disseminate knowledge, and lastly to stimulate innovation and enterprise in the field of renewable and sustainable energy.
Stellenbosch University has established research and teaching expertise spanning a wide spectrum in renewable energy, from solar and wind energy to conversion of biomass into liquid fuel.  The Department of Mechanical Engineering has a long history of involvement with the South African power generation industry delivering valuable research results that frequently led to improvements in the efficiency of power stations. An example is the work of Prof. Detlev Kröger (who was awarded an A rating as researcher by the NRF) in sustainable energy technology, where the successful realisation of waterless cooling for the largest power stations of their kind in the world (Kendal (Jhb) and Matimba (Ellisras)) earned him worldwide recognition as one of the world’s leading experts in dry-air cooling.  This technology is of particular importance to South Africa in the light of the severe limitation on water resources, especially in the North-West province. During the last seven years the Department has also focussed on bulk renewable solar power generation, with the solar chimney type power station as an example, where a number of research were successfully completed.  Prof. Theo von Backström’s expertise in wind turbines, based on 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. Prof. 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.  Prof. Van Zyl used genetic engineering to develop yeast strains for efficient biomass conversion to bio-commodities, such as bioethanol. The Department Forest & Wood Science and other departments at the Faculty of AgriSciences have recently completed projects in the production and sustainable supply of biomass, an important aspect of renewable natural resources.  Planning, implementation and logistics of energy plantations and its possible contribution to rural development will become an important field of research and training within the hub.
A number of other researchers across at least four faculties will be involved in the hub making it a truly trans-disciplinary programme.  In this regard it is also envisioned that students from various backgrounds, other than science and engineering, will be accepted onto the programme.
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, will be involved as a primary partner in the programme.   Prof. Mark Swilling is the academic director of the Sustainability Institute and Professor in the School of Public Management and Planning at Stellenbosch University.  The Sustainability Institute will participate in the programme through the sharing of course modules, research projects and students.
The primary objective of the Postgraduate Programme in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University will be to train 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.  It is expected that the first postgraduate students will start their studies in February 2007.