ARUA Centre of Excellence in Energy: UKRI GCRF Partnership Programme for Capacity Building

Lead Research Organisation: Stellenbosch University
Department Name: Process Engineering Building


Africa is a continent blessed with immense human potential, but it faces a lot of complex and stubborn developmental challenges. Home-grown solutions to these challenges are slow to emerge as there is a drastic shortage of researchers on the continent, which means that there are not enough academics to do the research required nor are there enough academics to train the next generation of young researchers who need to do this research in future. On top of these constraints, tackling problems dealing with development is a complex and nuanced issue which needs the input from a lot of different scientific disciplines, but getting different disciplines to work together effectively on a common goal is a problem in itself.

The project sets out to tackle the shortage in research capacity in Africa by developing a set of training and research activities aimed at bringing young researchers on board, and by creating the opportunity for experienced researchers to also participate in research groups that span different scientific disciplines. The training of researchers will happen in two ways, (i) by a set of very targeted courses aimed at developing the skills required to plan and do good research, and to make the results useful to other groups of people who may want to use the results, and (ii) through setting up research groups around a particular problem, where the research groups will contain a mixture of young and experienced researchers, and researchers that look at the problem from different perspectives e.g. from engineering, agricultural or human and social perspectives. In this way, the development of young researchers will be accelerated so that more people are trained to take up and deal with the rigours of an academic career, while the opportunity for young researchers to learn from more experienced ones is invaluable to make sure that they receive good training.

The project will further focus specifically on topics of how renewable and sustainable energy can be applied in different African settings in an way that ensures that benefits are shared equally, and that different groups and specifically women get the opportunity to benefit. In particular, methods will be sought to employ renewable energy to benefit African small farmers and the entire food chain from farmer to market. Small farms and the distribution of products from these farmers is extremely important in Africa, as these small farmers collectively produce up to 70% of the continent's food, and any improvement that they can gain through using renewable energy in their farming and households is likely to make an important impact on their lives. However, in order to develop solutions that are successful and useful to them, one needs to approach the question form many different angles, including the type of technology, where and how to incorporate it into the farming or food chain activities, who are the people who will benefit, how they will benefit and whether the solution can be improved to make sure that a larger number of people will benefit. A further specific topic area will be on how renewable energy can be applied in large informal settlements to address scarcity to energy, and how to ensure that particularly women are empowered through renewable energy solutions.

Through taking a broad approach to renewable and sustainable energy issues in Africa, and combining dedicated training and research activities, the project hopes to make an important contribution to training the top class African researchers of tomorrow, and to broaden their knowledge on how to tackle some of the most pressing developmental concerns on the African continent by working together with researchers who may not be in the same field as themselves.

Planned Impact

There are a number of beneficiaries who will draw benefit from the project. The primary beneficiaries of capacity building projects will be academic researchers and institutions, particularly early career researchers but also more experienced researchers. Benefits will be through enhanced capability to engage in complex, interdisciplinary research that the addresses African developmental challenges. Outside of academic researchers, there are two main groups of beneficiaries: (i) African communities who were engaged with and formed part of co-generation of knowledge during the capacity-building-through-scoping-studies phase the work, and (ii) a group of wider stakeholders who were engaged and participated in stakeholder meetings and planning of scoping studies, and will include policy-makers, industry and industry bodies, other funding bodies, local economic development partners and NGO's.

Impact on African communities will be built around short, medium and long-term impact Short term impact is expected during community engagement and collaboration, through collaborative problem definition and exploration of the community's challenges and delineating potential solutions to these. Medium term impact is expected to be achieved through advocacy and awareness creation (both by scoping study researchers and by community members) within the community regarding RSE, and by feedback received from researchers regarding the work. Long term impact is expected through (i) involving the community in research and thereby creating opportunity for co-creation of relevant knowledge and to connect community members to other stakeholders in the project (see below), (ii) through creating opportunity for training in and learning about RSE technologies and their potential for addressing energy access and improving livelihoods within their own context, and (iii) addressing issues of inequality and gender within the context of energy access during the project. Throughout the project, the community engagement is a critical part of the capacity building through scoping studies; for this reason, impact activities will be built into projects and monitored in order to ensure that communities draw benefit from the work; specific budget is also allocated to community engagement which will further ensure that impact is realised.

The project's impact on the wider group of stakeholders will happen through joint activities linked to researcher training and capacity development, and particularly at annual scientific and stakeholder workshops where research will be planned collaboratively, and where progress and results of capacity building and scoping studies will be communicated. The impact on these stakeholders will include opportunity to contribute to design and execution of truly interdisciplinary scoping studies to ensure the research is relevant and valuable to them, connecting with other stakeholders in the field of RSE research and implementation thereby providing a platform for collaboration between the different stakeholders, getting opportunity to interact with early career researchers and potentially recruiting from the pool of young talent in future, and having the opportunity to guide the direction of future research in the field. Apart from the collective stakeholder involvement at workshops, individual stakeholders will also be engaged on a case to case basis, dependent on their needs. Different stakeholders from South African and other African countries will be included in the collaborative activities, and budget has been specifically allocated to stakeholder engagement and their involvement in the research.


10 25 50
Description We have had capacity building activities within the collaboration group since 2021, where a number of postgraduate students and early career researchers attended online training courses to strengthen research methodology and approach. The academic collaborators are currently engaging in setting out scientific case studies that will form the basis for further intensive training of postgraduate students and early-career researchers.
Exploitation Route Not applicable yet
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Energy,Other

Description The CoE contributed to a study that measured environmental impact of using alien invasive trees for bioenergy purposes. These results now form the basis for an industry-led group in South Africa, that focus on biomass utilisation in the country.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description Development of a resilient water-energy-agriculture plan for the City of Cape Town, through predictive simulations
Amount R1,800,000 (ZAR)
Funding ID C2021/2023 - 00536 
Organisation Water Research Commission 
Sector Public
Country South Africa
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2024
Amount € 8,000 (EUR)
Organisation Utrecht University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Netherlands
Start 09/2020 
End 04/2021
Description General engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The ARUA CoE was featured in the Faculty of Engineering Newsletter, which is sent to approximately 16000 Alumni of the Faculty. Numerous engagement activities followed, mostly from industry players.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Panel member on policy discussion: Queen Mary Global Policy Institute: A Sustainable Future for Energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I formed part of a panel who discussed policy issues related to renewable and sustainable energy, on a global platform (webinar hosted by the Queen Mary University of London Global Policy Institute. I was there in capacity as the Director of the ARUA CoE in Energy. Impact is hard to measure, as it only occurred recently (14 March 2022)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Radio interview - Renewable energy in food processing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact It was a short radio interview as part of 'World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development 2022'. The University put together an expert list for media to phone, and I was asked for some comments on the importance of renewable energy in sustainable food processing operations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022