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Research Chairs:

DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Nuclear Engineering

The DST/NRF SARChI Research Chair in Nuclear Engineering is the only research chair in nuclear engineering in South Africa and NWU is the only university in South Africa with a PhD program in nuclear engineering. The aim of the chair is to do world-class research and contribute to the training of highly qualified nuclear engineers, scientists and technologists  to serve the needs of the country. The main emphasis is on the new generation of light water reactors and high temperature gas-cooled reactors with improved safety and efficiency features. The team focuses on the computer modeling of the neutron behavior, heat transfer and fluid flow of the reactors and the associated systems. The chair collaborates closely with selected international and national partners such as the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the Nuclear Energy Company of South Africa and the National Nuclear Regulator. Members of the chair are also involved in a research programme under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The research outputs of the chair published in journals and presented at conferences enjoy wide spread international recognition. The chair has also made valuable contributions regarding the ongoing debate on nuclear energy in South Africa. Read more

SARChI Chair in Coal Research Chair

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. Read more

DST/NRF Research Chair in Biofuels and Other Clean Alternative Fuels

The Bio-Energy research group, situated at the Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University is active in the field of second and third generation bio-refinery research, covering both biochemical and thermochemical production routes. The group consist of a unique blend of microbiologists, chemical engineers, biochemists and chemists, enabling the use of a diverse set of skills and knowledge in the research applications. Although biorefineries are currently a hot topic across the globe, our group is the only one that we know of that covers all aspects of bio refinery products, including biofuels, biochemical and bioplastics. Because the research fields of the group covers both the biochemical and thermochemical production routes, we are able to produce a unique blend of products and processes that aren’t often encountered in most research groups. This makes our group uniquely suited to solve problems in the biomass to energy field. The Bio-Energy research group has particular wide experience in thermochemical liquefaction, producing biochar as high quality coal substitute and soil remediation agent, and hydro-treatment of low value oils to high value fuels such as bio-based jet fuels and high value bio-chemicals. They are currently one of only 2 groups in South Africa working in the field of thermochemical liquefaction and the only group in South Africa working in the field of hydrotreatment of oils/biomass for high value fuels production. The group is actively working with industry partners that will implement the developed research towards lowering production costs, increasing revenue and lowering overall emissions and effluents from the production plants. Some of the groups’ research on ultrasonic irradiation has been implemented in industrial paper mills. Read more

EPPEI Specialisation Centre for Emissions Control

The Eskom Power Plant Engineering Institute (EPPEI) was established in 2012 and offers opportunities for research and post-graduation education in the power industry. Academic specialists at six leading universities, together with eight universities of technology in South Africa, work together with industry specialists to teach, mentor and guide our power industry students. This initiative provides for the upgrade of qualifications and skills of Eskom's engineers and technical staff. Our vision is to assist Eskom in conforming with current and future environmental regulations, and to establish itself as the leading authority on the quantification and assessment of pollutant emissions from Eskom power plants as well as the technologies used to reduce these emissions to regulatory acceptable levels. Read more


Research Centres of Excellence:

Centre of Excellence in Carbon based Fuels

The Centre of Excellence in Carbon-based Fuels will be a research entity with a clear focus in the energy field, linked to national and also international priorities. The research will be centred on the preparation, pre-treatment and production of coal and biomass-based liquids, solid and gaseous fuels, as well the beneficiation of associated products and the mitigation of the impact of the use of coal and biomass as energy source, not omitting the environment. It is therefore a cradle-to-grave approach to ensure the optimum use of fuels to obtain energy, with the conservation of the environment in mind. The centre will be the host for the present three established research chairs, i.e. (1) the SARChI Research Chair in Coal Research, (2) the ESKOM EPPEI Specialisation Centre for Emission Control, and (3) the SARChI Research Chair in Biofuels and other Clean Alternative Fuels fuels. It will enlarge its footprint in environmental aspects and underground coal gasification. There is already strong research collaboration between the three focus groups that will form the founding part of the centre of excellence, combining the strengths of these groups into a mutual vision and strategic plan. The main priorities of South Africa are poverty alleviation, addressing inequality and combating unemployment. The strategy of both the DTI and DST is aimed at supporting research activities that will increase South Africa’s competitiveness in the international market and create a critical mass of scientists and engineers who can support new technologies and innovations that can lead to new job opportunities across a wide spectrum of skills. The research focus of the proposed centre of excellence fits in very well with regard to the training of scientists and engineers in the energy sector, the development of new knowledge, and strengthening the advantages that South Africa already has in the energy sector. Read more


Research Units

The Unit for Energy and Technology Systems (UETS)

The Unit for Energy and Technology Systems (UETS) strives to be recognised as a centre of expertise for research in and development of energy and technology systems that are relevant to society, the environment and the country.  The Centre of Excellence in Carbon-Based Fuels is to be leaders in developing carbon-based fuels for improvements in energy efficiency, operational reliability and availability, as well as in minimising the carbon footprint by reducing the impact of emissions in general in the South African energy offering. We address national strategic goals and contemporary issues through engineering solutions that meet industry needs, while maintaining a balance between basic and applied research. Within the context of this broad vision, focus is accomplished by means of faculty-supported focus groups. Many of these groups are primarily concentrated on Energy Systems, i.e. three SARChI chairs in (1) Nuclear Energy, (2) Biofuels and other clean alternative fuels and (3) Coal Research as well as the Hydrogen Energy-hosted entity and other faculty-supported focus groups such as Thermal Fluid-Systems, Energy Management and Smart Power Systems. The number of focus groups that do not relate exclusively to Energy Systems increased to the extent that the name and identity of the Unit for Energy Systems was changed to the Unit for Energy and Technology Systems (UETS) in 2015 to include these groups, for example Intelligent Systems, Telecommunications and ICT (Telenet), Dynamic modelling and control of large scale Industrial Systems (McTronX), Aircraft Development, Advanced Manufacturing, Industrial Engineering and Water Research. The focus of this unit a whole is to address existing and future problems and challenges of society and industry through the systemic and systematic integration of resources and technology. Read more


Research Niche Areas:

MUST Deep Learning

MUST Deep Learning is a research group within the Faculty of Engineering at NWU. We perform basic and applied research in machine learning, with an emphasis on the theory and application of deep learning. Our theoretical work focuses on generalisation in deep learning, and the interpretability of deep learning models. Building on a strong track record in the application of machine learning to multilingual speech processing, our current application domains are diverse, ranging from speech processing to space weather prediction to industrial applications of deep learning. The core MUST research group is small but collaborates widely, and is active in various local and international research projects, working with partners and clients from industry, government, and NGOs. We are also proud to be a node of the South African National Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR). Researchers and students from MUST participate regularly in local and international workshops and conferences, such as AAAI, Interspeech, SLTU, ICASSP and SACAIR. At MUST we provide a focused, project-oriented learning environment to younger researchers, and provide senior researchers with significant freedom in choosing how they contribute to the group’s activities. Our research activities include a student lab in Potchefstroom, linking with remote students (at different university campuses or in industry) as well as a satellite research office in Hermanus, where group members and visiting scientists can spend time in an environment that is conducive towards focused research. Read more


Hosted Research Entities

Hydrogen South Africa (HySA)

The Department of Science and Technology of South Africa developed the National Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technologies (HFCT) Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Strategy. The National Strategy was branded Hydrogen South Africa (HySA). DST HySA Infrastructure Centre of Competence, co-hosted by NWU and CSIR, is focused on developing cost-competitive solutions for generating hydrogen using renewable energy and other chemical carriers as well as for hydrogen storage and distribution. Key facilities of HySA Infrastructure continues to develop state-of the-art hydrogen production technologies that have the capacity to supply hydrogen on-site and on-demand for both stationary and non-stationary applications. The overall vision of the HFCT RDI strategy is to bring about wealth, jobs and IPR creation through the initiation of new high-technology industries based on minerals found on South African soil. In addition, the livelihood of the general populace will be improved for example, through provision of reliable and clean electricity. Read more

Centre of Research and Continued Engineering Development (CRCED)

We specialise in the supervision of engineering postgraduate students. Over 120 people in our group including lecturers, post-docs, PhD, Masters students and extraordinary lecturers. We have supervised 400+ postgraduate degrees and published 400+ international peer reviewed publications. Our research enhances efficiency of operations in resources, logistics, energy, environment, health and safety. We contribute to the training of human resources in technology; we aim to produce well-rounded engineers by developing practical career requirements such as technical, writing, presentation, marketing, management skills etc. Our research enhances efficiency of operations in resources, logistics, energy, environment, health and safety. We encourage academic excellence by striving for high research output; We have over 30 years' experience in research on: industrial and mine efficiency, energy, steel manufacturing, petrochemical, mining, software systems, publishing, etc. Read more

Digital Health and Medical Devices for Africa

The fourth industrial revolution and the relatively fast development of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is unlocking new possibilities in healthcare. The NWU Faculty of Engineering in close collaboration with the NWU Business School and the Faculty of Health Sciences would continue to focus on the development and commercialisation of remotely monitored medical devices for the allied health professions, nursing and pharmacy in low and mid-income countries. Digital Health is the new frontier in healthcare, enabled by 4IR technologies. Globally, significant amounts are invested into telemedicine, medical robotics, digital wellness and patient management platforms. However, its impact on especially developing countries with poor and under-developed healthcare systems is still under-estimated. By deploying appropriate Mobile phone Applications and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, we will be bridging remoteness, scarcity of skills, avoidance of personal contact and optimization of patient data use, all in pursuit of universal access to quality healthcare. We are combining the efforts of African engineers, health scientists and life scientists to sculpt practical, high-impact and low-cost solutions. In all of our research efforts, we are enabling data-driven decision support for screening, diagnostics, rehabilitation, and therapy with multidisciplinary input. Read more


Research Groups:

Intelligent Systems

The Intelligent Systems research group investigates problems of a practical nature that are typically characterised by complex operations reflected by large data sets that should be mined to discover currently unknown relationships inherent to these systems. In the process of doing research in this field, the group to study the application domain (e.g. transportation, mining, security or pattern recognition), collect the required data sets, extract features from the data, process the data by way of classification or predictive modelling and generate diagnostic reports that can be used for management purposes. In some cases, the group also builds simulation models for the underlying systems in order to perform scenario analysis for cases where physical experiments are too complex or expensive. The group performs work in the fields of road transportation, cross-border trade corridors, security installations, mining operations, IT security systems, sound and video recognition and others and finance. In all cases practical problems are addressed as identified by industry partners, e.g. more intelligent overload control, improved efficiency in cross-border processes, more accurate security surveillance systems, reconciling conflicting safety and efficiency objectives in mining, recognition of advertisements in broadcasting data and development of financial prediction models. Read more


The name McTronX is an acronym after the field of mechatronics and was chosen due to the strong developments in the area of AMBs, a product of mechatronics, in the initial years since the establishment of the research group. This drive resulted in numerous laboratory demonstrator systems that today provide platforms for continued research. An equally strong activity involved the Modelling and Control and Condition Monitoring of different Brayton-cycle based configurations of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. The core activity of the McTronX research group is the Dynamic Modelling and Control of large-scale industrial systems or processes. Characteristic of the group is the multi-disciplinary nature of its projects. In terms of research capacity, the research group constitutes 7 academics across the engineering disciplines of electrical, mechanical and chemical and numerous postgraduate students. Up to the end of 2019 the group has delivered in excess of 60 Masters students and 16 PhD students. In terms of publication, in excess of 50 accredited journal articles have culminated from the research. Read more

Thermal Fluids

The thermal-fluid research group is a focus group within the Faculty of Engineering that focuses on research relevant to the thermal-fluid industry with the emphasis on energy systems. The members of the research group each specialize in a specific area of thermal-fluids, all complementing each other. Members of the group are also involved in consultation work in the field of thermal-fluid systems, enhancing the relationship between the university and the industry. The research contributes on different levels: energy efficient water heating heat pumps have helped to save electricity used by the consumer and thereby reduce the load on the supply grid; next generation of heat pumps focus on reducing the global warming impact of current refrigerants used in industry; the involvement with biomass to electricity focus on cleaner alternative ways to generate electricity for smaller industrial applications in place of conventional coal fired systems; a large component of the electricity consumption of deep mining is used for cooling of the underground environment. The research in terms of mobile underground refrigeration focus on energy efficiency to reduce the electricity usage. engineering Analytics Group (EAG) investigate, model and implement optimum energy resource usage for any engineering plant, especially in a fluctuating process and resource flow environment.  Thermal fluid models are custom developed for a plant, mathematically optimised and implemented in-time using statistical prediction models. Read more


The Telenet research group is a focus group at the NWU Faculty of Engineering. The research done by the Telenet group is broadly within the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), with specific projects focusing on telecommunications, data networks, information security, and associated applications. The research group manages a dedicated research laboratory, named the Shannon laboratory. This laboratory houses the Cisco Academy and specialized telecommunications research equipment, computers and experimental systems.The group is actively involved with industrial partners such as Telkom and GEW. Telenet has good relationships in national academia and some international academic networks, by actively participating in review panels of government departments, journals and conferences as well as acting as external examiners for other South African universities. The Telenet group mainly receives funding from Telkom via the Telkom Centres for Excellence initiative. Telenet provides human resource development via the NWU postgraduate qualification programmes in the field telecommunications. Read more


Engineering Research Ethics Committee

Research ethics training of researchers (Principal investigators, supervisors/promoters, co-supervisors/co-promotors, Master’s and PhD students and other research team members) has become a requirement of the Deepartment of Health and the National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) and proof of formal research ethics training received during the past three years must accompany all research ethics applications. Read more