Institute for Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability

Our Research Thematic Areas

The Institute for Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability (iNanoWS) is divided into two focus areas of Research (Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability). Further to these two focus areas of research, iNanoWS undertakes research on four thematic areas under which various strategic projects relating to nanotechnology and water sustainability are developed. See staff profiles for specific projects. Below are the thematic areas:


The focus area encompasses three thematic areas, Nanostructured Materials (NSM), Membrane Science and Technology (MST) and Applied Electrochemistry (AE). Research activities cover the development and application of materials for water treatment, sensing and fuel cells. The purpose of the Focus area is to enhance governance through co-ordinated thematic plans, strategies and interactions between the thematic areas. The goal is to improve research output, student completion rates, human capacity development and the visibility of iNanoWS and Unisa both locally and internationally.

 Acting Focus Area Leader: Dr Lueta de Kock (


1. Membrane Science and Technology (MST) Thematic Area

The membrane science and technology thematic area integrates separation science and nanotechnology to develop advanced membranes with superior properties such as high-water transport, good solute rejection and reduced membrane fouling propensity. Emphasis is directed on investigating the fundamental principles of asymmetric membrane preparation using basic polymers and their blends with nanoparticles. In addition, the group focuses on the characterization of novel and new generation membranes using various probing techniques to generate knowledge on surface properties, structural configuration, mass transfer and pollutant removal. These membranes are evaluated using various processes (UF, NF, RO, FO) for an array of purposes such surface and wastewater treatment, wastewater reuse, desalination, and gas separation. Most importantly, particular focus is directed towards optimising promising laboratory scale technologies for demonstration/pilot scale evaluation and eventual commercialization.

 Thematic Area leader: Dr Machawe M Motsa ( )

2. Applied Electrochemistry (AE) Thematic Area

The Applied Electrochemistry Thematic Area (AE) aims at exploiting the electrochemical properties of nanomaterials in providing solutions to challenges associated with water pollution, sensing of pollutants and clean energy production. The emphasis includes solving of societal water-related problems using research and innovation in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Ultimate applications of the nanomaterials include bio/sensors, capacitive deionization, photoelectrochemical reactors, supercapacitors and batteries. This thematic area is further divided into three main focus research areas: Environmental Water Sensors and ElectroCatalysts (ESEC), Electrochemical Energy Materials (EEM) and Electrochemical water desalination (EC-WD) that address the need for smart and miniaturized devices for rapid real-time determination and removal of target pollutants (organic, inorganic and pathogens), development of fully integrated next-generation rechargeable hybrid battery-supercapacitor (supercapbattery) electrical energy storage devices and the development of materials that can be applied in the construction of a flow-through desalination system as anode and cathode capacitive deionization (CDI) electrodes respectively.

Thematic area leader: Dr. Usisipho Feleni (

3. Nanostructured Materials (NSM) Thematic Area

The Nanostructured Materials is an interdisciplinary research thematic area focused on synthesis and characterisation of the nanostructured materials for environmental and energy applications. Particular focus is centred on understanding of the synthesis methods, characterization techniques, nanostructure evolution and fundamental knowledge of nanostructured material properties for specific target applications. A wide range of nanoscale characterization tools (TEM, SEM, AFM, XPS, TGA, Raman etc) are used to probe the nanostructured materials across all dimension scales.  Current projects include Nanomaterial synthesis and characterisation, Photocatalysis for pollutant degradation, AOPs for environmental remediation, AMD treatment and spinel ferrite based AOPs, Nano-Electronics and environmental prototypes, Polymer supported nanoparticles and resource recovery, Nanoconjugates as photocatalysts for photodynamic antimicrobial chemotherapy and photo-oxidation of pollutants, Nanocomposites for pollutant removal and hydrogen production, Semiconductor and metal nanomaterials and fabrication of polymer fibres. By tying together chemical engineering principles, surface chemistry and materials science, the group aims to design and fabricate nanostructured materials-based devices for maintenance of a clean environment and healthy ecosystems hence contributing to improvements in human health, productivity and sustainable economic development.

Thematic Area Leader: Prof Alex T Kuvarega (


 Water sustainability (WS) focus area is one of the two focus areas within the Institute for Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability (iNanoWS). It is comprised of three (3) thematic areas, namely Analytical and Environmental Research (AER), Urban Water Cycle and Water Treatment Technologies (UWC&WTT) and Water and Health (W&H). The W&H is not yet under operation.

 Acting Focus Area Leader: Prof Titus Msagati (

1. Analytical and Environmental Research (AER) Thematic Area

In this thematic area, the main activities are centred on the development of analytical methods and procedures that are sensitive and selective enough to detect pollutants (organic, inorganic and pathogens) in the aquatic environments to the levels below the guidelines. The development of analytical procedures includes sampling protocols, sample preparation techniques including passive sampling technologies for both chemical and pathogenic species. In addition, other activities include risk assessment, the establishment of toxicological data and patterns of all pollutants in the aquatic environments and development of models to predict their bioavailability under changing environmental and climatic conditions. AER is also involved in the preparation of kits for analytical procedures and also the development of models that can be used for the establishment of guidelines. This thematic area also is tasked to come up with bioremediation technologies to mitigate the environment where technologies that falls under wetlands bioremediation, microbial leaching and biodegradation of pollutants are being developed and optimized to suite for the target pollutants in selected environments. Development of environmental surveillance schemes for pollutants is part of the activities done under AER.

Thematic Area leader: Dr Lawrence Madikizela (

2. Urban Water Cycle and Water Treatment Technologies (UWC&WTT) Thematic Area

The UWC&WTT thematic area focusses on understanding of the key elements of the urban water cycle, the global drivers for urban water management, and developing new and innovative water treatment technologies. UWC&WTT consists of three research streams, namely: (1) Natural Organic Matter (NOM) Research and De Facto Reuse Modelling, (2) Development of Water Quality Assessment Technologies, and (3) Wastewater-based Epidemiology and Sustainable Urban Wastewater Sludge and Resource Reuse. NOM research involves characterization, measurement, and monitoring of NOM to enable the development of novel methods for degrading/removing NOM from South African water resources. The de facto reuse project is aimed at quantifying and modelling water bodies polluted by de facto reuse in SA. The second research stream adopts the combined strategy of passive sampling (i.e., routine monitoring of emerging pollutants in aquatic environments) and bioassay measurements (i.e., implementation of effect-based methods (EBM) in the evaluation of performance of treatment technologies as part of water safety planning as well as determining potential impacts of wastewater discharges to surface waters). The last research stream covers; (i) the chemical analysis of specific human metabolic excretion products (biomarkers) in wastewater for public health monitoring (i.e., wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)), and (ii) characterization of pollutant fate across different sludge treatment units and an investigation of costs resulting from sludge transport and treatment.

Thematic Area leader: Dr Tshepo Malefetse (



Last modified: 2021/07/05