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Change the world

11/01/2024

The Department of Chemistry is part of an international project aimed at greening LPG fossil fuel gas in southern Africa.

 

Greening the production of LPG used for cooking, heating, in laboratories and for many other purposes, is part of the world’s shift to sustainable, green fuels.

GreenQUEST is a multi-institutional, transdisciplinary German–South African research partnership aimed at greening the production and use of fossil fuel LPG in southern Africa, where it is widely used for cooking and heating in households, in laboratories and for many other purposes.

Chemistry professor and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science, Zenixole Tshentu, who is leading the Mandela University GreenQUEST team explains, “The goal is to develop a sustainable and green liquefied fuel gas called gLFG by integrating complex analytical and technological process development. This will be part of a holistic assessment of the technical, economic, environmental and social dimensions along the entire gLFG value chain.”

Researchers from the African Climate and Development Initiative, the Energy Systems Research Group and the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are part of the team of top international chemists, business leaders, climate specialists and sociologists working on the GreenQUEST project, which is jointly coordinated by Prof Jack Fletcher, Director of the Catalysis Institute at the Department of Chemical Engineering at UCT, and Dr Tobias Sontheimer, Head of the Energy and Information Department at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin, Germany.

Innovative catalysts and collaborative process

“The innovation lies in the scientific and technological development of the catalysts and process in collaboration with Prof Fletcher and his team,” Prof Tshentu explains. The research process is to integrate a series of reactions to create a carbon-neutral system. It starts with breaking down carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO), then from CO to methanol, then to dimethyl ether (DME) and finally to gLFG.

“Our team at Mandela University, which includes two master’s students (Christian Asiema and Luzuko Mbumbulwana), a postdoctoral fellow (Dr Peter Fapojuwo) and Drs Ogunlaja and Tywabi-Ngeva from the Department of Chemistry, is involved in the development of the catalysts for converting DME to gLFG,” says Prof Tshentu.

“Since the 1980s, catalysts have been developed for a one-pot conversion of CO2 to LFG but this process has not been successful; therefore a multi-step process is proposed in GreenQUEST. If the catalyst development from Mandela University is successful, the UCT team will further develop the process.”

Assessing whether communities would use gLFG

On a social level, the project will closely engage with a range of off-grid southern African communities where most people rely on LPG and other polluting fuels, such as firewood, charcoal and paraffin, which negatively impacts their health and contributes to carbon emissions. GreenQUEST will assess the social acceptance of gLFG to determine whether these communities would be prepared to use it.

The pricing of gLFG will be a key factor down the line, and it would probably need to be subsidised by governments to be affordable for the end users. The idea is that carbon credits could offset the cost if a carbon tax was introduced. “In developed countries, the carbon credit system is well established, but we still need to figure out how it would be done here, and we would need to work out how green gLFG is,” says Prof Tshentu.

“In addition, GreenQUEST will enable the establishment of new relationships and strengthen existing ones between South African and German partners, paving the way for lasting strategic alliances in crucial areas of climate change research and mitigation.”

Multi-institutional partnership

The three-year Green QUEST research partnership includes Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Chemistry, the University of Cape Town (UCT), Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HBZ) and several other German and South African partners. The three-year project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) and officially started in October 2022.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057
debbie.derry@mandela.ac.za