Department of Process Engineering
FIELDS OF RESEARCH
This Department, with its strong focus on research, plays a leading role in upgrading and improving chemical and metallurgical processes in industry by developing and applying modern information systems technology. Often this is achieved by collaborating with other local and foreign research institutions. The main areas of research are:
To ensure a sustainable future our biological resources need to be used optimally, and the Chemical and Process Engineer's role is central to developing industrial processes that are safe, sustainable and profitable. The group's research therefore revolves around the use of biological resources in the development of production processes, and can be subdivided into two classes: processes that employ biological resources (e.g. live organisms like yeasts or bacteria, or active biological molecules like enzymes) to transform raw materials into valuable products, or production processes that use biological raw materials as inputs.
Key challenges in extractive metallurgy include changing raw material characteristics (e.g. diminishing mineral/metal content as easy-to-access ore bodies are depleted); energy use minimization (to minimize carbon footprint); water use minimization (to reduce impact on scarce natural resources); as well as effectively dealing with the emergent complex behaviour from intricate flowsheets and heterogeneous, multiphase raw materials. Important research areas include hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, physical processing, surface chemistry, flowsheet design and monitoring for abnormal events, process control and economic optimization.
Experimental and fundamental work focuses on distillation, membrane technology, supercritical extraction, thermodynamics and absorption. In distillation the work includes the characterisation of packing material and trays, understanding the hydrodynamics in distillation columns, practical distillation work and modelling. Membrane technology research has two main thrusts: catalytic membrane technology and the use of membranes for water treatment. Work on supercritical extraction aims at developing new super-critical extraction processes. In thermodynamics the main focus is on the measurement of high pressure multicomponent phase equilibria in the supercritical regime, solubility measurements in supercritical fluids and thermodynamic modelling of complex systems. In absorption the main objective is CO2 sequestration.
It is well-known by now that what has traditionally been considered "waste" presents a greatly underutilized resource. The successful valorisation of various wastes will allow us to close the loop in the circular economy, moving us closer to a truly sustainable future. The complexity of the challenge demands an interdisciplinary solution; the process engineer's focus on the conversion of raw materials to high-value products places them firmly at the centre of this global initiative. Key challenges in the field include separation and concentration of valuable products as well as functionalization of relatively inert chemicals. Three main research thrusts include waste tyre conversion to high-value chemicals (REDISA project), electronic waste processing for metal recovery (lithium, gold, copper) and biological waste utilization (e.g. wastewater, agricultural residues, fishery waste, etc).
Research and development aims to address current local and international challenges in water treatment and provision. Our objective is to improve existing water treatment technologies, as well as develop new technologies that will contribute to addressing the global challenge of sustaining this resource. Our strengths lie in membrane technology for water treatment and reuse (microfiltration, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, membrane distillation and Donnan Dialysis), and in technologies that will be applicable and sustainable in developing economies. Our fields of research interest include reclamation and reuse of mine wastewater, industrial wastewaters, agricultural processing wastewaters, and fishing industry wastewaters; potable water provision, with a particular focus on technologies for developing economies and rural communities; technology development on forward osmosis, membrane distillation and Donnan Dialysis; innovative water disinfection technologies and membrane bioreactors.