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South African fossil fuel giant invests in ‘green’ energy


Sasol funds four research chairs and six fellowships with National Research Foundation

South African energy and chemicals company Sasol announced a R40 million (US$2.2m), five-year investment in clean energy research with the country’s National Research Foundation on 10 February.

The funding will support four national research chairs—two in energy and power systems, and two in green hydrogen—the pair announced. It will also support six postdoctoral fellowships in green hydrogen, energy storage and waste utilisation.

The two chairs in energy and power systems modelling will be hosted by the universities of Pretoria and Cape Town. Ramesh Bansal from UP has been appointed to one of the chairs. He is the group head of the university’s electrical, electronic and computer engineering department. Sunetra Chowdhury, associate professor of electrical engineering, will occupy the UCT chair.

Chowdhury told Research Professional News that the appointments come at a “strategic moment” for South Africa in view of the country’s energy crisis and accompanying push for renewable energy deployment. “I strongly believe that it will give me the opportunity to build effective research collaboration links between academia and industry in South Africa and abroad,” she said.

The chairs in green hydrogen have been awarded to Tien-Chien Jen, head of the mechanical engineering department at the University of Johannesburg, and Prathieka Naidoo from Stellenbosch University.

“In addition to the innovation this chair will bring, it will build capacity for next-generation researchers and postgraduate students,” Jen told Research Professional News.

Meanwhile, three of the postdoctoral fellowships will be managed by the universities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and the other three by the University of the Witwatersrand, the Durban University of Technology and North-West University.

"The two-year fellowships will include dedicated research time at Sasol’s research facilities in Sasolburg," said Sasol in a statement.

NRF and Sasol said they have jointly committed R150 million to industry-linked research and innovation projects over the next five years to support clean energy programmes.

Sasol was founded in 1950 when the Apartheid government looked to turn the country’s considerable coal reserves into liquid fuel in a bid to reduce the regime’s dependence on energy imports.

Today, the company produces synthetic fuels and operates in the chemical, nuclear, coal tar and electricity sectors. Environmental groups say Sasol’s Secunda plant near Sasolburg is one of the greatest point-source emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.