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Faculty gains expert in renewable energy

The Faculty of Engineering is fortunate that a highly-experienced process engineer, award-winning patent holder and author has joined its academic corps. Prof Craig McGregor has been appointed as an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering from 1 June 2019. He will also serve as Director of the Solar Thermal Energy Research Group (STERG).

“I am a process engineer by training and obtained my PhD in Reactor Optimisation at the University of the Witwatersrand,” he says. “After university I joined Sasol where I worked in many areas over 20 years. I worked in the Research and Development department of Technology where I was involved in the development of a number of technologies. Two of these were completely novel to the chemical industry.

“Towards 2010, Sasol became interested in developing technologies in the renewable space. I was tasked to develop a technology development roadmap for concentrating solar power and put together a team of engineers for this task.”

Prof McGregor admits that this was indeed an exciting time for him. He elaborates: “I’ve always had a passion for renewables. This was already clear at an early age when I picked hydro power and photo voltaic systems for my respective primary and high school science projects.

“Over the next four years our team worked on two broad themes at Sasol: Power cycles looking at supercritical COfor concentrating solar power, and a mid-sized heliostat which was named Project Stellio. In terms of Stellio we developed a number of concepts and identified a company, Schlaich Bergermann Partner (SBP), to help commercialise the Stellio heliostat. Just as we finished with BSP, Sasol decided to exit the development of renewable energy technology.

“The Stellio heliostat was a highlight in my career and I view it as a great achievement. It is regarded as the cheapest technology delivering the best performance in industry.”

Prof McGregor now has the ideal opportunity to apply his industry experience to the benefit of his research group at Stellenbosch. He says: “At STERG, I believe we must take the Helio-Pod, which was developed here, and improve it further. The Helio-Pod is the better option when you are looking at concentrating solar applications to provide process heat.”

After 20 years in industry, Prof McGregor faces a new challenge – that of being an academic. He looks forward to this challenge: “Teaching is a new thing and it excites me. It is an honour to be in a position where I am now able to pass on my experience and the skills gained over 20 years to a younger generation. I will teach Thermofluid Dynamics to third-year students and also supervise undergraduate- and postgraduate students.”

In his capacity researcher and Director of STERG he will lead a very strong, well-established and globally-recognised research group. “I see this as a fantastic opportunity to bring some of my insights from industry to the University to help make an impact in terms of the renewable energy space. I believe South Africa, with its abundant sunshine, has the ability to become a leader in using concentrating solar energy for process heat. It is my hope that Stellenbosch University, with our world-recognised thought leadership, can light the way.” he concludes.

Photograph:

Prof Craig McGregor, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Director of STERG.