Unisa leads with water purification, biodigesters for schools and more

24 September 2019 - 20:33
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From membrane technology training for water purity to a biodigester saving a school thousands of rand, Unisa has plenty of good news to share. 

Advanced training on membrane technology

Kagiso Molokane, a lab technician from NanoWS, doing a demonstration for Prof Mandla Makhanya and delegates.
Kagiso Molokane, a lab technician from NanoWS, doing a demonstration for Prof Mandla Makhanya and delegates.
Image: Unisa

Unisa’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) recently launched a state-of-the-art hollow-fibre membrane spinning system at the university’s Science Campus.  

Hollow-fibre membranes are tubular devices used as filters to purify water and wastewater. Water treatment companies use a variety of other water and water treatment technologies but few offer the advantages of these membranes.

“Obtaining these machines to make hollow-fibre membranes will enable Unisa to offer advanced training on membrane technology relevant to water and wastewater treatment and thus generate highly skilled graduates who will serve the communities better,” says Prof Bhekie Mamba, executive dean of CSET. 

“Moreover, it will enable Unisa to embark on offering solutions to water-quality challenges. This is because Unisa will be able to produce these devices locally, on a large scale, and supply them to water and wastewater treatment plants.”

Research in the development of water-purification technologies is one area where Unisa is investing resources, says Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa principal and vice-chancellor. 

“For this reason, Unisa has been at the forefront among its peers globally in developing appropriate and relevant technologies that are affordable and relevant to our communities in our country and in the region,” he says. “As we speak, laboratories at Unisa’s Science Campus are well equipped with state-of-the-art, top-of-the-range research facilities that enable researchers to engage in high-quality research in almost all fields, including the area of water quality.”

Biodigester to save school R70,000 a year

Starting the spadework: this is the spot where the Elethu Themba Combined School’s biodigesters will be installed. Holding the spade are Dr Celestin Sempuga (left) of Unisa’s IDEAS and Muraga Sadiki, deputy headmaster. Around them are members of the Unisa chapter of Engineers without Borders (in blue overalls) and some of the school staff and pupils who helped with the design and marketing of the biodigesters.
Starting the spadework: this is the spot where the Elethu Themba Combined School’s biodigesters will be installed. Holding the spade are Dr Celestin Sempuga (left) of Unisa’s IDEAS and Muraga Sadiki, deputy headmaster. Around them are members of the Unisa chapter of Engineers without Borders (in blue overalls) and some of the school staff and pupils who helped with the design and marketing of the biodigesters.
Image: Unisa

Elethu Themba Combined School in Johannesburg South spends R70,000 a year on liquid petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking meals twice a day for 1,600 pupils.

From 2020, that money will instead be spent on desperately needed learning resources and school maintenance, according to deputy headmaster Muraga Sadiki. 

This will be possible when the school, situated near the Jackson informal settlement where most of its 1,600 pupils live, starts using biogas produced through a project led by Unisa’s Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS) and the Unisa chapter of the student organisation Engineers without Borders.

Once the new biodigesters are up and running next year, LPG will be replaced with methane made from cow manure obtained from a nearby farm – either for free or for a fair exchange, says Kamogelo Sehoole, a BSc Hons chemistry student and member of Engineers without Borders. “For example, we could take the effluent from the digester back to the farm because it makes very good fertiliser.”

Dr Celestin Sempuga of IDEAS says the project is particularly exciting as it is also a learning opportunity for Elethu Themba’s learners, some of whom are part of a Unisa-supported science group that has helped design and market the biodigester.

Unisa law student named top essayist

Unisa principal and vice-chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya congratulates LLM student Gilbert Phindile Kato for raising the bar, shaping futures and leading change.
Unisa principal and vice-chancellor Prof Mandla Makhanya congratulates LLM student Gilbert Phindile Kato for raising the bar, shaping futures and leading change.
Image: Unisa

Gilbert Phindile Kato, a Master of Laws (LLM) student at Unisa and a candidate attorney at Webber Wentzel, the law firm, was recently announced as the winner of the LLM category of the South African Law Reform Commission’s Legal Essay Writing Competition.  

Kato’s legal essay titled “Moving away from binary system” received the highest score from the panel of judges composed of independent professors and doctors of law from various SA universities. 

Kato wrote the legal essay under the supervision of Nzumbululo Silas Siphuma, who is a senior lecturer in the department of jurisprudence at Unisa’s College of Law (CLAW).

Kato’s achievements date back to early 2017, when he worked closely with Siphuma during the 2017 Unisa Moot Court Competition, where Siphuma and his colleagues at CLAW and the Unisa Law Clinic trained Moot court participants from the Pretoria region. At the 2017 Unisa Interregional Moot Court Competition finals, Kato won the prize for best oralist and helped the Pretoria Region Moot Court team secure two more awards.

This is the first time that a CLAW student has won the competition. Previously, Unisa students were runners-up in the LLB category in 2013 and 2016.

This article was paid for by Unisa.

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