Page 112 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
In 2007, Minerals to Metals (M2M) was
established as one of five signature research
themes at UCT. The aim of the project was to
integrate and expand capacity in minerals
beneficiation research by drawing together
the skills of world-renowned academic and
research staff within four research groupings
in the Department of Chemical Engineering,
the Department of Physics, the Positron
Emission Particle Tracking (PEPT) Research
Group, and the Centre for Research in
Computational and Applied Mechanics
What makes Minerals to Metals so unique is that
researchers focus on entire minerals processing flow
sheets or production sequences (a systemic approach),
as well as on individual mineral extraction processes,
explains director, Professor Jean-Paul Franzidis,
who holds the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Minerals
“This means that we do research across the spectrum,
from increasing the amount of mineral or metal extracted
from ores, to reducing the environmental and social
impacts of mineral beneficiation operations.”
The signature theme, for example, oversees projects
that explore reducing the acid-rock drainage from mine
discards or tailings; examine the human factors that
result in injuries and fatalities in mining; and investigate
the potential for solar energy to power some mining
processes, so as to reduce the sector’s environmental
footprint, among other things. The initiative’s location in
South Africa – and UCT – offers further benefits.
“Being the biggest mining economy on the continent
does create opportunities,” says Professor Franzidis. “For
example, we are able to undertake research that would be
difficult to do in other African universities, due to a lack of
facilities. We attract many postgraduate students into our
programme from other African countries, and this allows us
to share the message of what we do all over the continent.”
In addition, Minerals to Metals is also developing a new
master’s degree in Management of Mineral Resources
for Sustainable Development in Africa, collaborating with
the University of Zambia, as part of the Education for
Sustainable Development in Africa (ESDA) programme of
the United Nations. The new degree will include courses
offered by the UCT Graduate School of Business and the
Sustainability Institute at the University of Stellenbosch.
Time for a c*change
The DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Catalysis (or
c*change) is another research grouping within the
Department of Chemical Engineering that has put a
strong focus on the development of the next generation of
technologies and researchers.
Since its inception in 2004, c*change, hosted by the
Centre for Catalysis Research, has established itself as
a key player in the field of catalysis science – a critical
industrial technology underpinning the South African
economy. As such, it conducts and oversees valuable,
large-scale and long-term research that focuses on tough
problems with industrial relevance in South Africa. One
such technology is the Fischer-Tropsch process, a catalytic
process that converts coal and natural gas to liquid fuels,
and currently provides 40 percent of South Africa’s liquid
fuels requirements.
It is vital, then, that South Africa not only reinforces its
expertise in this area, but also builds on this, says director,
Professor Michael Claeys.
The science fraternity is starting to take note. In 2011,
Professor Claeys and UCT colleague, Professor Eric van
Steen, were named as finalists in the 2010/2011 National
Science and Technology Forum-BHP Billiton Awards. This for
a collaborative project that led to the invention of a patented
instrument known as an In-situ Magnetometer, which sprang
from their research into Fischer-Tropsch catalysis.
From resources to knowledge:
the quest to transform
South Africa’s economy
“Being the biggest mining economy on
the continent creates opportunities.
We are able to undertake research
that would be difficult to do in other
African universities.”