In March 2007, Stellenbosch University was awarded the Senior Chair of Energy Research (CoER) : Biofuels and Other Alternative Clean Fuels by the South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI).

The CoER : Biofuels is led by the Research Chair, Prof WH (Emile) van Zyl at the Department of Microbiology, Stellenbosch University, together with a team of core members:

  • Dr Marinda Bloom (Department of Microbiology)
  • Prof JH (Hansie) Knoetze (Department of Process Engineering, Stellenbosch University)
  • Prof Johann F Görgens (Department of Process Engineering, Stellenbosch University)
  • Prof Harro von Blottnitz (Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cape Town)

The CoER steers a Postgraduate Programme in Biofuels striving to:

  • develop human capital with a strong scientific and engineering training,
  • develop and establish technologies for commercial application,
  • interacting with South African experts from industry, businesses and NGOs, and
  • staying abreast with latest technologies and research through extensive international collaboration networks.

The vision of the CoER : Biofuels R&D programme is to focus on the technological interventions required to develop commercially-viable value chains for second generation lignocellulose conversion to biofuels in South Africa.

This will assist South Africa to become a technology- and services-provider to biofuel producers in Africa, where neighbouring countries have substantially better biomass potential than South Africa.
The programme builds on existing expertise in:

  • feedstock development,
  • biological processing,
  • bioprospecting,
  • yeast biotechnology and
  • non-petroleum hydrocarbon processing.

As it is not possible to predict which technology will work better on different lignocellulosic feedstocks, the CoER will focus on 2nd generation technology development looking at both biochemical (fermentation) and thermo-chemical (pyrolysis and gasification) processes. It is also important to note that biochemical and thermo-chemical processes for lignocellulose conversion to liquid biofuels have comparable efficiencies and economics.
The CoER specifically focuses on developing

  • second generation technologies for the one-step fermentation of starch to ethanol;
  • the use of lignocellulose as feedstock for biofuels production by biochemical and
  • thermo-chemical conversion;
  • process modelling for integrating biofuels and high-value chemicals production in biorefineries; and
  • costs and life-cycle analyses to evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of these technologies.

All together, valuable inputs will be acquired that can help determine the commercial feasibility of 2nd generation technologies for lignocellulose conversion.

The CoER also interacts closely with the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) awarded to Stellenbosch University in 2006, with the CoER serving on the CRSES steering committee.

Chair of Energy Research 2008-2011 Biofuels