Research Focus

Research and development focus on the following:

•  Understanding the fundamental composition, structure and reactive properties of South African coals,
•  The optimal design and operation of combustion and gasification processes,
•  Reduction of environmentally unfriendly aspects of coal conversion  processes, and
•  The use of lasers to induce specific reactions.


Key Focus Areas

Laser assisted activation of H2, C-O and C-H bonds in CO, CO2, CH4 to obtain selected products
The project is involved with an investigation into the use of lasers to selectively activate the strong covalent C-H and C-O bonds in methane and carbon dioxide. The use of laser sources to activate these bonds may increase the reaction yields of processes in which these compounds are reactants. This may also lead to greater selectivity in the obtained products and thus decreased product separation costs in industrial applications. This research project focuses on processes such as the transformation of carbon dioxide into usable products for the petrochemical industry, and also on the necessity to reduce carbon emissions. A part of the project involves molecular modelling of the photo-induced processes.




Coal Chemistry


Coal gasification and combustion research aims 

•  To understand and verify the chemical processes that each element and its important compounds undergo through all the zones during gasification and combustion processes;
•  To understand the relationship between the process conditions—temperature, pressure, and atmosphere—and the chemical and physical properties of the various compounds formed under these conditions;
•  To understand and verify the mineralogy through all the zones in a fixed bed gasification process, where the study of mineralogy includes, broadly, not just mineral speciation but also agglomeration, sintering, melting, vaporization, and properties of melt phases; 
•  To use abovementioned aims to propose ways to adapt or modify the gasification process in such a way as to reduce environmentally unfriendly aspects; 
•  To investigate sulphur dioxide self-retention during combustion of coal and sulphur capture using coal ashes;
•  To study the formation, characteristics and compositional control of tar in gasification; and
•  To develop an understanding of catalytic gasification.


Advanced coal and tar characterisation and Molecular Modelling aim

•  To develop an understanding of the complex structure of South African coals using advanced analytical measurements (i.e. SS-NMR, HR-TEM, LD-TOF and FTIR) and molecular modelling.


Team members (NWU)

  School of Chemical and Minerals Engineering
Prof. JR Bunt, Prof. QP Campbell, Prof. RC Everson, Prof. HWJP Neomagus, Prof. FB  Waanders.

•  Chemical Resource Beneficiation
Prof. H. Schobert (Extra-ordinary Professor), Dr JP Beukes, Dr A du Plessis (Extra-ordinary Senior Lecturer), Dr C van Sittert and Dr G Lachman (Molecular Modelling)


National and International Partners (various researchers)

•  Industrial: Sasol
•  Universities and Research Institutes: University of Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, Penn State University (US), University of North Dakota (US), CSIR, CSIRO (Australia).