TUT student wins Inter-University innovation challenge

13 May 2021

Pinky Mokwena, a Masters’ Degree student in Environmental Sciences at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Faculty of Sciences, scooped first prize at the overall Inter-University Innovation Challenge 2021 Blue Oceans Award. This inaugural innovation competition hosted at the French Embassy came with a R150 000-price money. 

Pinky Mokwena, a Masters’ Degree student in Environmental Sciences.

The Inter-University Innovation Challenge  is a collaboration between the City of Tshwane (CoT); The Innovation Hub (TIH); Tshwane University of Technology (TUT); University of South Africa (UNISA), University of Pretoria (UP), Tuksnovation; Universities of South Africa (USAf); Eskom; Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC); and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). The key-feature of this collaborative programme serves is the remaking of Tshwane as “Africa’s Innovation Capital”.  It provides a platform for innovators at universities to find possible solutions that will assist the city to overcome service delivery challenges. 

Mokwena, who is studying under the supervision of Prof Jonathan Okonkwo, from the Department of Environmental, Water and Earth, competed in the waste management category. The title of her submission was the use of organic maize tassel to remove perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances in water. This technique allows for a dual solution to two of the greatest South African environmental challenges, namely water treatment and waste management. Research has showed that water containing PFAS* has significant health and environmental hazards, such as acute toxicities, carcinogenicity and bioaccumulation in water environments. Having a treatment methods such as the one Mokwena invented, would ensure quality water for the city of Tshwane and South Africa at large. 

Mokwena could not contain her joy and excitement at receiving the award. “My supervisor played a huge role in this milestone. The support from the University was amazing and I am proud to fly the university flag high. I believe this is the beginning of many great partnerships to come, in particular with the City of Tshwane,” she said. As a next step for collaboration, the City of Tshwane has invited Ms Mokwena to prepare a presentation on how the City can benefit from her technology towards Waste Water Treatment, currently a pain point in the City.

Dr Hamilton Mphidi, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Office Manager, explained that the goal of the Inter-University Innovation challenge is to develop highly competent and confident student entrepreneurs who have the capacity to conceive and implement innovative solutions to address service delivery challenges.

“These solutions could ultimately also improve the quality of life in South Africa and beyond our borders. Secondly, the programme aims to build a vibrant, competitive entrepreneurship community in Tshwane, by building a pipeline of entrepreneurs and innovators; creating a platform for student entrepreneurs to display their innovative ideas; and identify service delivery focused innovations that can be up scaled and commercialised. Moreover, this initiative seeks to provide support (financial and non-financial) to student entrepreneurs.

Competing universities included University of Pretoria (UP), University of South Africa (UNISA) and TUT. A total number of 64 TUT students participated in the competition. Six qualified for the finals that took place in November 2020. Pinky won the first prize, thus representing TUT in the2021 Ultimate Blue Ocean Awards. 

  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a range of man-made chemicals that do not break down naturally in the environment, especially in water. PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellents. Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods, while there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 4711  Email: tshisikhawerpt@tut.ac.za