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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Turning waste into a commodity

INNOVATE: Wighens Ngoie Ilunga INNOVATE: Wighens Ngoie Ilunga

Several years ago when Wighens Ngoie Ilunga enrolled for a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering he had his sights set on the mining and mineral processing industries.

However, fast forward to a laboratory at the Biocatalysis and Technical Biology (BTB) Research Group at the Bellville Campus, Ilunga can be found turning waste into a commodity, using environmentally friendly processes as part of resources recovery.

A Chemical Engineering doctoral student at CPUT, Ilunga’s focus has shifted from mining to using his skills to ensure a sustainable and safer environment. Ilunga is currently exploring how to turn solid waste sludge from edible oil industries into biodiesel, a renewable energy. This innovative study was born out of his masters’ research, which focused on industrial and domestic waste water effluents.  


Although Ilunga found an innovative way to deal with the wastewater effluents during this time, he realized that some industries were still faced with the problem of disposing solid waste to landfills, especially waste sludge from wastewater treatment plants, a process that is costly for industry and contributes to pollution.

“I used waste sludge to extract monounsaturated components which are very suitable for biodiesel production and to produce bioethanol with the remaining lignocellulosic component of the same sludge. The catalyst used for the process was synthesised from mineral processing tailings, a waste from the flotation process in hydrometallurgy” he says.

“The novelties of this research are firstly the novel nanomagnetic catalyst, which can be magnetically recovered and reused. This minimizes the energy consumption when compared to conventional separation processes. Secondly, the integrated process for biodiesel production, where all raw materials are derived from waste. The use of agri-waste for energy increases food and energy security,” he added.

Currently Ilunga is conducting further testing on the catalyst and is improving the yield of biodiesel.

He plans to graduate at the end of 2017 and hopes to continue focusing on green research.

“My passion is to modify current technology or create processes that are more environmentally friendly, as well as cost effective.”

Written by Candes Keating

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Provides coverage for the Engineering and Applied Sciences Faculties; the Bellville and Wellington Campuses, and research and innovation news.