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New collaboration will boost water and energy research in Africa

Article by Media and Communication, Faculty of Science.

Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, one of Europe’s leading applied research organisations, have joined forces with Stellenbosch University (SU) to address the water, energy and food security challenges facing southern Africa.

The newly established Fraunhofer Innovation Platform (FIP) involves SU’s Faculties of Engineering, Science and AgriSciences, under the auspices of the SU Water Institute and the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies, as well as four Fraunhofer Institutes. While the agreement were signed in February 2020, the official launch will take place later this year.

The Fraunhofer Innovation Platform (FIP) will address the entire spectrum of water and energy security challenges in the region, from academic research to technology development, transfer and implementation. The platform will complement existing efforts in the context of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, including that of the ARUA Centre of Excellence in Energy, hosted at SU’s Faculty of Engineering, and part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) framework.

Prof Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, says the newly-established FIP is unique in the sense that four Fraunhofer Institutes, and not just one, are involved in the platform: “All partners are active members of the Fraunhofer Water Systems Alliance and have an extensive history of delivering projects in international cooperation and more specifically in African countries. The FIP will also involve cooperation with the Fraunhofer Energy Alliance, one of the largest energy research networks in Europe.”

The four Fraunhofer Institutes involved in the FIP are the Institutes for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology; for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation; for Solar Energy Systems; and for Surface Engineering and Thin Films.

Prof Gideon Wolfaardt, director of the SU Water Institute (SUWI), says water research is one of SU’s strategic focus areas: “The SU Water Institute offers a virtual umbrella where teams can be assembled with unique combinations of expertise as required by the challenge. We have been working on several water-related projects with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft since 2016, and look forward to explore the many new opportunities offered by a long-term relationship with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.”

The establishment of the FIP will be coordinated by Prof Wolfaardt as interim Director, Dr Marelize Botes from SUWI and Karin Kritzinger from the Faculty of Engineering, as well as Fraunhofer’s Dr Ursula Schließmann, who will serve as Vice-Director.

Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, says the newly-established platform “provides a wonderful opportunity for Stellenbosch University to work with our colleagues of the Fraunhofer Institutes to develop projects to transfer technology into the broader African context”.

Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science, says the initiative will greatly enhance the impact of current and future research efforts; “With this large pool of scientists, engineers and technicians combining expertise from different fields, the FIP has great potential for knowledge transfer and capacity building in the region.”