The SARChI coal research chair, situated in the Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University, has been designed in accordance with a ‘cradle-to-grave’ value-addition project portfolio framework. The focus is on fine coal processing, coal utilisation optimisation, and waste utilisation. Numerous novel studies are included throughout the programme, with the quest being to explore new horizons for coal utilisation. Coal-specific fields such as fine coal dewatering fundamentals, coal breakage, briquetting/extrusion of fuel rods, tar formation and destruction, molecular modelling, catalytic gasification, pyrolysis studies, reaction kinetics, trace element behaviour, low smoke fuels, coke synthesis and coal cogeneration are being investigated.

Over the past decade, the SARChI coal research entity has grown from just a few researchers with fewer than five students to a group consisting of 10 full-time personnel (seven NRF-rated researchers) and more than 30 postgraduate students, with a tenfold increase in budget (NRF and industry). The group’s portfolio is strongly focused on technology, with a good balance of fundamental and applied research. It strongly endeavours to add value to existing industrial processes, but also provides scope to develop highly innovative new technologies with the use of catalytic processes that could also have application globally.

The SARChI chair in coal research published a total of 56 peer-reviewed journal articles (2013–2016), with an average journal impact factor of 2,73, and presented over 100 papers at conferences both locally and internationally. This chair also delivered 34 postgraduate students since the chair’s start-up in 2013, i.e. 26 master’s degree and eight PhD students received their degrees. A total of 95 BEng final-year research project students also graduated (2013–2016). Numerous awards have been received by both students and staff working in the SARChI coal research chair programme. After peer review, the NRF recently awarded the chair a second five-year research tenure (2018–2022).

The SARChI coal research chair strives to contribute to the economy and welfare of all people in South Africa in the field of providing energy, fuel and chemicals from coal. This is done by developing innovative alternative or improved processes using available coal reserves while maintaining a clean environment. The main challenges for industrial coal utilisation currently include capital cost reduction, efficiency increase, adaptation to low-grade feedstock, and environmental mitigation. To this end, a case for the coupling of the energy, chemical and recycling sectors towards a closed carbon cycle is being addressed within the SARChI coal research chair programme.

Contact details:

For more information on the research projects and outputs contact Prof. John Bunt:

E-mail: John.Bunt@nwu.ac.za