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Novel Clay-Based Adsorbents for Mine Water and Groundwater Remediation, 2013-2016

 

Grant Holder

Dr Wilson M Gitari
Department of Ecology and Resources Management, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Venda

Industry Partners

Eskom

Project Description

Visitors to the University of Venda (UniVen), situated close to the centre of the town of Thohoyandou in the north of Limpopo, will be struck by the distinctive red tones to the campus. That, it turns out, is in part due to the high clay content of the ground in the region. From his labs on the campus, Dr Wilson Gitari is trying to put these natural resources to good use. His project, which is the first at UniVen to be funded by THRIP, aims to harness this clay to clean up contaminated groundwater.  The major components of the clay are smectite minerals, so called because they undergo reversible expansion when they absorb water.


Groundwater studies have shown that it is the most widely used source of drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in rural scattered communities. But in parts of Limpopo and other provinces, groundwater has particularly high concentration of fluoride. While, typically, this mineral is useful in the prevention of dental cavities (which is why it’s used in toothpaste and can be found in tap water), too much fluoride has been associated with a condition known as dental fluorosis, in which the protective tooth enamel slowly deteriorates. Dr Gitari and his group want to see if the clay soils and bentonite can be used to extract excess fluoride from groundwater by manipulating the clay’s chemical make-up. The plan is to incorporate the modified clay into a series of water treatment devices that are both cost-effective and easy to use, keeping the needs and circumstances of rural households in mind.

There could also be larger-scale industrial applications of the clay. Dr Gitari and his group are collaborating with colleagues from the University of the Western Cape and Wits University on a project targeting the treatment of wastewater from coal mines and power stations. In such scenarios, bentonite clay will be integrated with modified coal fly ash – a powdery waste from coal-fired power stations that colleagues elsewhere are introducing into certain nanotechnologies – to remove elements such as sulphuric acid, and to restore the pH balance (the balance of alkalinity and acidity) of wastewater.

Assisting Students and Human Resource Development

Currently the project involves a total of eight students – two doctoral students, four busy with their master’s (three are female), and two in their honours levels. Their contributions have produced important dissertations, conference publications and a number of journal papers. These outputs were only possible because of the THRIP funding.

Project Impact on the
Second Economy

There are a number of pottery projects, employing women from the area, being run in the communities surrounding UniVen. Dr Gitari envisions his project providing further development opportunities for these communities. Once the ceramic filter prototypes are optimised and designed, there is potential for small-scale industrial production in water defluoridation, creating valuable jobs and imparting skills in the community. The women could, for example, be trained to produce the clay filters – and the complete treatment devices – using locally available clay soils.

Benefits to the Environment

Aside from its socioeconomic impact, the devices that Dr Gitari has in mind hold clear-cut environmental benefits. This includes the increased provision of clean, safe drinking water, as well as the protection and remediation of the environment. The role that this could play in the clean-up of acid mine drainage holds immense potential for South Africa.

Growing Research Capacity
at Univen

The THRIP grant has opened new funding opportunities for the university. In this case, it has allowed Dr Gitari to leverage funding to the tune of R150,000 per ye
ar for three years from ESKOM. In addition, the group was able to bring the Water Research Commission on as a funding partner, the research body committing itself to a grant of R690,000 over three years (2014-2016). These awards have been invested in student support and the purchase of small equipment and consumables, such as the outsourced analysis of samples. (That said, Dr Gitari would like to see modified THRIP funding ratios – say 1:1 – for rural institutions such UniVen).

PROJECT OUTPUTS

§  Number of students: 8

§  Number of female students: 2

§  Number of black students: 8

§  Number of researchers: 3

§  Number of black researchers: 2

§  Number of female researchers: 1

§  Number of publications: 7

 

 
 

THRIP NEWS

The Lodox Programme at the University of Cape Town – a DTI/NRF/THRIP funded activity

Stef Steiner & Tania Douglas

May 2014

 

The UCT Lodox Programme is a research collaboration between Lodox Systems, a South African company that specialises in X-ray imaging systems, and the Biomedical Engineering Division of University of Cape Town. The collaboration is funded in part by the company and in part by the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) of the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Research Foundation. The Lodox Programme enables students to complete a research project, which typically forms part of the requirements for a degree, on topics that are of particular interest to Lodox Systems, mainly in the biomedical engineering field. From 2000 to 2004, the Lodox Programme was supported by the Innovation Fund, a Department of Science and Technology (DST) initiative which was mandated to promote technological innovation through investment in late-stage research and development. The first THRIP grant was awarded to the Lodox Programme in 2005, with Professor Kit Vaughan as Principal Investigator. Professor Tania Douglas took over as Principal Investigator in 2009. Since 2005, a total of 16 postgraduate, one BSc(Hons) and four BScEng graduates have completed research projects through the programme. In addition, several vacation students have done work at UCT or at Lodox Systems, six medical students have completed research assistantships, and a DST/NRF intern has spent a year at UCT working in the Lodox Programme.

Lodox Programme research has contributed to the establishment of a UCT spin-out company, CapeRay, which is commercialising a dual-modality breast imaging system. The UCT-CapeRay collaboration was separately funded by THRIP for the period 2010-2012.

A further benefit of the THRIP initiative is additional funding in the form of Technology Innovation Promotion through the Transfer of People (TIPTOP). This part of the programme allows the partner company to employ a recent graduate, and funds part of that employee’s salary for up to two years. Thus, a small company can afford to take on new employees who are already familiar with the company’s product and line of work, without incurring the full cost of employment. Over the duration of the Lodox Programme, Lodox Systems has provided employment for five former students who graduated through the programme.

The Lodox Programme has been a win-win situation for Lodox Systems, the students, and the University. The company benefits from R&D at a modest investment of funds. The research is published in peer-reviewed journals, thus furthering knowledge and validating technical claims about the Lodox product. To date, 19 publications in peer-reviewed journals have come out of the THRIP-funded Lodox Programme and several papers have been presented at local and international conferences. The students receive experience solving real-life engineering problems with exposure to industry while earning a small salary, and most complete research required for their degree. The University benefits as it is supported in the provision of postgraduate education and in the production of research outputs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology Developed

In the Telkom Centre of Excellence at Rhodes University, Professor Alfredo Terzoli and his team are exploring ways to overcome the challenges faced in South Africa to set up computer networks for the delivery of multimedia services (think audio, video, images, teleconferencing, email, etc) over the internet. In a previous THRIP-funded project, the team developed what they call a “wide palette of technologies” that, as a package, could serve as an electronic platform on which such multimedia services could be delivered.

 

This project included comparing one of their in-house platforms, based on open-source code, with a commercially available platform system, better known in industry as an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). Such an IMS lays out how such services can be delivered over both fixed (landline) and mobile devices (mobile phones, for example). More than that, the research group set up such an open platform, as well as several novel frameworks around location-based services, the latter of particular use in mobile telecommunications that allows people to access electronic networks (and the worlds of Facebook and YouTube, as examples) via their cell phones.

 

As a whole, that project showed how state-of-the-art technologies could be harnessed in poles-apart environments, i.e. in both urban settings where internet access is often just a log-in away, and in rural ‘islands’, where infrastructure is harder to come by. Working with the Centre are industry partners Telkom (naturally), as well as Tellabs SA, GENBAND, Easttel and Bright Projects 39, almost all with a particular interest in telecommunications networks and services.

 

Social Investment

This work contributed to boosting computer literacy among disadvantaged communities through the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL) project in Mbashe municipality high schools, supporting ecological, heritage and cultural tourism by providing communication technologies in rural areas. The Siyakhula Living Lab was established in 2005 as a joint collaboration between the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes and the South African-Finland Partnership (SAFIPA). 

 

Human Resource Development

The project has offered opportunities for many postgraduate students. At the end of the 2012 academic year, for example, the Centre was toasting the graduation of 14 honours students, 15 master’s students and three doctoral students. A further 13 PhD and 10 master’s candidates were expected to be in training for the 2013 academic year. In another milestone, Prof Terzoli won the 2012 Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) Technology award in the human resource development category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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