College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Exciting collaboration with China to focus on new energy

The College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) hosted the opening of the Unisa Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS) China Research Collaboration Centre and the Unisa-Hebei University of Science and Technology (HBUST) International Joint Laboratory of New Energy (South African office) at a prestigious event on Sunday 18 August 2019.

From left: Prof Yan Cuiying, Dean of the International Education College and Director of the International Office of HBUST; Prof Diane Hildebrand, Director of IDEAS; Daan du Tout, DDG of DSI; Prof Zhu Liguang, President of HBUST; Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa; His Excellency Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa; Sakhi Simelane, Chair of the Unisa Council; Prof Bhekie Mamba, Executive Dean: CSET; and Hou Lihong, Councillor of Science and Technology, Chinese Embassy

In his opening remarks, the Executive Dean of CSET, Prof Bhekie Mamba, congratulated IDEAS for giving expression to the globalisation and internationalisation of research through establishing a flourishing collaboration with HBUST. "The research that has been undertaken to produce new energy is not only relevant and essential, but it is about changing the lives of the less privileged," he said. "For example, communities that cannot afford the ever-increasing price of liquid petroleum gas for cooking will now be able to access energy from other sources - sources that will also be cheaper. Such an accomplishment gives expression to the narrative of research changing lives and shaping the future of humanity."

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, who visited China in September 2018 to preside over the official opening of the Unisa-HBUST International Joint Laboratory of New Energy, congratulated the two institutions. "China and South Africa have similar problems," he said, "and we both need new technologies that are green and internationally competitive, which can create jobs in our countries."  

In his keynote address, Zhu Liguang, President of HBUST, expressed his sincere thanks to Unisa for its support and the cooperation between the two universities. "The establishment of the International Joint Research Laboratory of New Energy has promoted in-depth research cooperation between the two universities in the fields of comprehensive utilisation of biomass and clean energy," he said. "This collaboration will further promote the exchanges and cooperation between the teachers and students of the two universities as well as international curriculum construction and international talent cultivation between the two countries."

HBUST is located in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, which is 300 kilometres from Beijing and 200 kilometres from the Xiong’am New Area.

Officiating at the unveiling of the plaque were Daan du Toit, DDG of DSI; Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa; and Prof Zhu Liguang, President of HBUST

On behalf of the Council of Unisa, Thabiso Ramasike, Chairperson of the Finance, Investment and Estates Committee of Council, congratulated CSET on making great strides in pushing the internationalisation agenda of the university and thanked the ambassador of China for responding quickly and positively to the business proposal by Elethuthemba Combined School, which was also given an opportunity to present the work being done with Engineers Without Boards ‒ a community engagement project in CSET that is committed to solving community problems by providing long-term engineering solutions.

IDEAS was formally established at Unisa in 2017. The vision of IDEAS is to develop new energy processes tailored for Africa. The founder and current director is Prof Diane Hildebrandt. Formally known as the Centre of Material and Process Synthesis (COMPS) at Wits, IDEAS has collaborated with China on many academic and industrial projects since 2004.

A joint research laboratory between Unisa and HBUST was established with funding from Hebei Province and HBUST. The laboratory, which is located at the HBUST campus, will open in September 2019. "As more staff and student exchanges occur, IDEAS is to open the South African office of this joint research laboratory and will expand it into a collaboration centre with China, as collaboration with China has become important in terms of access to international researchers and institutions, equipment, students and funding," remarked Prof Hildebrandt.  

Excellent progress has already been made. The joint research collaboration between HBUST and Unisa was set up to conduct research in the field of biomass utilisation, green chemistry and green hydrogen production. Six students from HBUST are registered at Unisa for their PhD and MTech studies, and are currently working in the joint laboratory, together with four postgraduates from IDEAS. The funding for this collaboration, 5 million Chinese yuan (CNY 5M) from the provincial government and HBUST is already in place. IDEAS will fund the work in South Africa.

His Excellency Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to SA, catching up with Prof Bhekie Mamba, Executive Dean: CSET, before the official opening

There have been notable achievements for the duration of the IDEAS-China collaboration (including projects under COMPS). These include the following:

  • The coal-to-liquid pilot projects, funded by a private company from 2004 to 2010 (in excess of CNY 50M). 
  • The biomass-to-liquid demonstration project, funded by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) from 2010 to 2013 (CNY 2M).
  • Various research collaboration projects under the South African-Chinese Science and Technology Collaboration Programme funded by the NRF and China’s MoST. 

A number of students are currently being trained: 

post-doctoral students:

  • Dr Qiwen Sun, current CEO of Yankuang Shanghai New Energy Company
  • Prof Xinying Liu, current professor at IDEAS
  • Prof Haifeng Xiong, current professor at XiaMen University, selected as youth talent in 2018
  • Dr Lingfeng Zhang, current head of research and development of a private company in China

Three PhD students:

  • Prof Yali Yao, current associate professor at IDEAS
  • Prof Xiaojun Lu, current deputy chief technology officer (CTO) of Kaidi New Energy Company
  • Dr Xiaowei Zhu, current head of a research group at Kaidi New Energy Company

registered PhD students:

  • Yusheng Zhang, finishing in 2019
  • Jianli Chang, finishing in 2020
  • Jianqi Shen, finishing in 2020
  • Ran Liu, registered in 2019 with HBUST
  • Hong Xu, registered in 2019 with HBUST
  • Xiao Tian, registered in 2019 with HBUST
  • Wentao Dong, registered in 2019 with HBUST
  • Tingting Sun, registered in 2019 with HBUST

registered MSc/MTech student:

  • Shuang Zong, registered in 2019 with HBUST

To date, this collaboration has produced eight publications in international peer review journals and one international patent. Altogether, six papers are in the preparation/reviewing stage.

* By Thembeka Ntuli-Mpapama, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2019/08/21