Young researchers tackle energy and water crises

YOUNG researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) have stressed the importance of intensify innovation to solve South Africa’s energy and water crises.

The researchers are championing research and technology development and were showcasing research projects they are currently working on at a media briefing as part of the Youth Month celebrations.

Problems the researchers are tackling, include acid mines, invasive alien plants and the impact on water resources, and an increase in water demand due to population growth, economic expansion and climate change.

Dr Jeffrey Baloyi, a senior researcher at the CSIR, says the organisation has been using its research capacity for the restoration of acid mine drainage with the goal of encouraging waste beneficiation and a circular economy in the mining and water industry.

Dr Ntshidi is part of a CSIR team of scientists who are studying water used by agricultural crops, indigenous trees and invasive alien plants in the Western Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

According to Dr Ntshidi, understanding the water use of plants in a dry country is important as climate change is predicted to put further pressure on the country’s demand for water. “Our research projects investigate options to increase the resilience of irrigated agriculture to water scarcity by implementing water-saving technologies.

“Monitoring the use of water by indigenous trees can inform crop choices as future production of exotic fruits, such as apples, pears, and citrus, may become difficult due to increasingly harsh growing conditions. We monitor and model the water use of alien invasive plants to understand the impact on water fluxes. This type of information can be used to prioritise management interventions and identify areas of priority for alien plant control,” says Dr Ntshidi.

Acting Research Group Lead for the Energy Centre, Aradhna Pandarum, shared the CSIR’s ‘Just Energy Transition’ research, which is made up of several research projects that are looking at lowering emissions by decommissioning power stations and transitioning to clean energy technologies, and at the same time ensuring that this transition is socially and economically just.

These research projects study the impact energy transition could have on the job market, as well as methods that could be used to develop small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

The CSIR Energy Research centre is working towards a joint five-year programme with Energy and Water Sector Education Training Authority to incubate and capacitate SMMEs in the energy industry.  CSIR researchers will provide thought leadership on opportunities SMMEs could pursue based on the future energy landscape as well specialised technical support.

“We also provide thought leadership on the skills required for the new energy industry and influence the development of curricula,” says Pandarum.

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