The development of fuel cells and fuel cell membranes | Hydrogen generation and storage | Sustainable electricity for rural communities through solar, wind and fuel cell energy
South Africa has a population of 44 million of which more than 10 million people live in rural areas. The national electricity supplier is under severe pressure to supply electricity to the industrial and mining sectors, as well as urban household areas. An alternative to electricity, which uses fossil fuels and to a minor extent nuclear energy, has to be found and implemented as the demand for electricity increases daily. During 2008, the country experienced a major shortage of electricity, resulting in load shedding. This proved very costly to the economy and very inconvenient to the normal household receiving electricity from the national supplier, Eskom. Today, about 25% of the 12,5 million households in South Africa are still without electricity. On the other, hand South Africa is blessed with an abundance of sunshine, estimated to be around eight hours per day. Most of the power currently generated in South Africa comes from fossil fuels, with which South Africa is also blessed. The conversion of fossil fuels to electricity is, not very environmentaly friendly. Fuel cell electricity generation is one of the possible solutions to this major problem. Fuel cell research at VUT started in 2004 and has grown to a point that a novel membrane has been developed and manufactured. The membrane is currently being patented. This membrane is the result of collaboration between VUT, WITS, Telkom, M-Tec, TFMC and Meds International.
Radio frequency heating and drying of materials | Rock comminution for mining | Blood heating
Current physical methods used for crushing of rocks in the mineral processing industry result in erratic breakages that do not efficiently liberate the economically valuable minerals. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the effect that RF power exerts on rock materials and in particular on the mineral grain boundaries. This will allow better recovery of specific minerals, including ore minerals. It may also lead to a significant reduction in the energy consumption of current comminution and mineral liberation equipment.
The primary aim is to design and develop a suitable coupling device to connect relevant electronic equipment such as test instruments and amplifiers to various rock samples. Maximum power transfer at the resonating frequency of the rock sample prior to comminution must be achieved. This is referred to as pre-treatment.
Commercially available RF amplifiers are to be ised with an innovative coupling device in the RF pre-treatment of specific rock samples. This will contribute to new knowledge regarding the electrical properties of rocks and provide an improved understanding of RF pre-treatment of dielectric materials. Further contributions include strengthening interdisciplinary research between electrical and metallurgical engineers, which is one of the objectives of the Competitive Support for Unrated Researchers Programme offered by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Applied electronic products for a vast number of commercial applications | DC-DC converters and DC-AC inverters
Develop a sustainable fuel cell system to provide sufficient power to operate a typical telecommunication system. The system would also be applicable to a rural community without any electricity. The fuel cell is not a new concept, yet the application has been limited. Much work is being done on the application of fuel cells, particularly in the transport field, but the problem of electricity supply to remote areas remains unsolved. There are a multitude of questions to be addressed, such as the economical supply of hydrogen, the control of the interface between fuel cell and load, and the robustness of the fuel cell to the climate extremes experienced in South Africa. One of the main problems with the application of fuel cells is the cost of the membrane and membrane electrode assembly. This has lead to the design and development of a novel membrane by researchers from VUT and WITS. This is a major development in the research, giving new perspectives and research opportunities. The membrane is currently being patented.
The TELKOM Centre of Excellence, which is industry-sponsored, focuses mainly on the telecommunications industry. The CoE forms a very important part of the research at VUT.
Collaboration with the following Institutions:
TELKOM SA (MoU),
TFMC Pty Ltd (MoU),
University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) (MoU),
Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda) (MoU),
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) (MoU),