The project falls in the long-term Europe Africa Partnership on Renewable Energy (LEAP-RE) group, which includes Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), one from South Africa and another from Austria (EKASI Energy and Carbon Compass) with the aim to develop a commercially viable heating product with charging and lighting capability, that will go beyond heating but generate multiple possibilities. It is estimated that 3,5 million South African households do not have access to modern energy, globally the figure sits at 0,8 billion people, making this an interesting opportunity for innovation for societal impact and the associated economic value chain exploitation.
Speaking on the funding award, Prof Khumbulani Mpofu, the Gibela Research Chair said there is a great opportunity for the University to contribute to reducing the impact of climate change especially in the homes where traditional approaches to heating are used. In addition, the project will provide an opportunity for millions of off-grid South Africans to be able to charge their phones while students have light to study.
The manufacturing and mass commercialisation phase of this development is an aspect that Prof Mpofu is looking forward to with great enthusiasm.
“We are very grateful to the DSI and SANEDI, who will support access to clean energy through this project,” said Prof Mpofu.
The SHE device will be based on an existing portable micro-gasifier cookstove, which is used with compressed wood pellets, the currently available best performing cookstove regarding CO emissions. This basic stove concept for wood pellets was developed by Ekasi Energy, together with TU Graz using a combined experimental approach and extensive CFD analyses. In this project the innovative SHE concept is developed addressing the main barriers that hinder the broad implementation of this technology, i.e. lack of electricity production and limits in fuel flexibility. This is achieved by combining for the first time:
- Expanding fuel options to biomass pellets made from available agricultural residues and perennial energy crops as affordable and readily available fuels and burning these fuels in a manner that meets the WHO cooking standards respectively with extremely low emissions and high efficiency;
- Integrating a thermoelectric generator to generate electricity and connecting it to a solar panel and battery to power small appliances and lamps grid-independently; and
- Integration of a smart low-tech method to track carbon-dioxide emissions based on a database of relevant fuels to monitor the heat and electricity generated by the SHE unit and an algorithm that correlates this with fuel and carbon-dioxide savings.
Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement said: “The biggest energy projects deserve the biggest grant. We are excited and quite honoured to be receiving this grant and moreover the ground-breaking impact this project will have on our students and society at large.”
In closing, Dr Kanakana-Katumba, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment said that the Faculty is excited for the products that will be introduced to the market because of this breakthrough research.
“The Faculty appreciates the funding and understands that the funding will be utilised to fund the research, which contributes directly to the sustainable development goal of clean energy that is accessible to all. The research results will impact the community significantly and this is one of the examples of impactful research of which the Faculty is committed to conduct,” said Dr Katumba.