Innovative technology makes fuel

Thulani Gqirana

THE Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) will unveil innovative algae technology today that could turn tons of coal dust wasted in South Africa and elsewhere into high-quality and commercially viable fuels.

The pioneering technology, called Coalgae, will be publicly demonstrated at a prestigious event attended by Department of Science and Technology (DST) deputy director-general of research development and innovation Mmboneni Muofhe at NMMU’s Institute for Chemical Technology, InnoVenton.

It was developed by NMMU and is part of DST’s late generation bio-fuels demonstration programme. Together with making whole coal from the dust, Coalgae can also be used to produce a high-quality bio-fossil crude oil, which can be used to form different types of fuel like petrol, diesel/kerosene, aviation fuel, and heavy fuel oil.

NMMU inventor and chemistry professor Ben Zeelie said it had taken four years for the project to get to this stage.

“To see the fruit of all the hard work, time and effort put in over these last four years finally come down to this. Being able to demonstrate a technology that is totally unique in the world is the most exciting part.”

Zeelie said following the development of the microalgae technologies over the last three years, a pre-feasibility engineering study had been completed by specialist company Hatch Goba. It supplies engineering, project and construction management services, process and business consulting and operational services to the mining, metallurgical, energy and infrastructure industries.

The engineering study resulted in a robust and cost-effective design for Coalgae production on a full commercial scale.

“Techno-economic studies of the Coalgae process have been undertaken, and indicate that, at an appropriate scale, the process is financially viable.”

He said a full feasibility study would be conducted early this year.

Solar energy experts will share their ideas and research at the second Southern African Solar Energy Conference in the Bay this week.

The two-day conference, starting at the Pine Lodge Conference Centre today, will focus on photovoltaic and solar thermal technology, systems and applications. Organisers say it will provide an opportunity to share and discuss recent developments in the field.