Centre for Renewable Energy and Water

Vision

To be a leading global centre for renewable energy and water research creating innovative knowledge that adds value to life in Africa.

Mission

To develop research cultural capital, exploit the competencies at the interface of disciplines and engage in research driven by effective teaching and learning

Background

The grand global challenges of our time include access to clean water, global warming, affordable energy and food security. Efforts to address these challenges are constrained by the fact that the natural resources are being depleted while the need continues to rise with the increase in global population. This means that as far as water and energy provision is concerned, the world has less for more. To address this problem, scientists have in the recent years adopted a strategy that is aimed at developing technologies for creating more with less. At the centre of this strategy is the use of low-cost materials and technologies based on regional or site specific conditions. This strategy must be guided by the national imperatives, with the aim of exploiting regional competitive advantages. Africa has large fresh water bodies including lakes and rivers that frequently cause disastrous floods. Rivers with large volumes of water are inevitably potential sources of hydroenergy. Further, for countries that are in the tropical regions, additional advantages include abundant solar irradiation and warm climate conducive for producing renewable energy from wastewater.

It is in this context that production of renewable energy such as biofuel has gained a lot of interest in recent years. Despite the increasing interest, the major limitation associated with this technology is the high cost of producing renewable energy compared to that of the fossil fuel. To address this problem, there are two approaches that define the trajectory of the research path that adds value to life. The first one is the use of wastes or low-cost materials as feedstock for energy production. This approach is often described as waste beneficiation. In recent years, the efficiency of many processes has been enhanced by the use of nano-modified materials. The second approach involves the integration of the conventional energy production processes with advanced ones to improve production. The performance of the integrated system can be improved by optimizing the operating conditions, and this can be done by using experimental and simulation techniques. Experimental methods are more costly than the simulation ones. For multiphase systems such as heterogeneous photodegradation and anaerobic digestion, computational fluid dynamic technique (CFD) can be employed to optimize the process and reduce the operational cost. In this regard, solar photodegradation has been successfully integrated with anaerobic digestion to reduce the cost of producing bioenergy from waste. The wastes resulting from such processes can be used as fertilizer to improve food production. This is the water-energy-food nexus, which can improve energy production with a trickle-down effect of waste beneficiation in food production. In this kind of research approach, cutting edge technologies are employed to address the most pertinent community problems and hence improve the quality of life.

Focus areas

  • Renewable energy production (biodiesel, biogas and bioethanol)
  • Application of adsorption technique in point-of-use potable water purification and in wastewater remediation
  • Storm water management and hydrology
  • Biological wastewater treatment and environmental pollution control
  • Advanced oxidation processes (semi-conductor based heterogeneous photocatalysis and Photo-Fenton)
  • Application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) technique in reactor optimization
  • Application of nano-materials in pollution management

Prof. Ochieng Aoyi
Department of Chemical Engineering
Tel: +27 16 950 9884
Email:  ochienga@vut.ac.za