DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC)
The DST/Mintek is a national facility established in 2007 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed through Mintek. The NIC is geographically spread across the country with the development hub at Mintek and dedicated research spokes hosted at three universities, i.e. Rhodes University (RU), University of Johannesburg (UJ) and University of the Western Cape (UWC). The activities of the NIC are aimed at addressing national priorities highlighted by both the National Nanotechnology Strategy (NNS) and national research and development (R&D) strategy. Importantly, the Mintek NIC structure was built on the foundation of the National System of Innovations (NSI) to focus on driving South Africa’s transformation from resource-based economy towards knowledge based economy using nanotechnology. The NIC activities focus on a number of issues, including the development of research platforms, encouraging and promoting the formation of collaborative networks, addressing human capital development and bridging the “innovation chasm”.
The Department of Applied Chemistry at UJ forms part of the collaborative network with the DST/Mintek NIC with a focus on the development of nanomaterials-based solutions to solve problems relating to water treatment and wastewater remediation (i.e. Water Platform). Its vision is to provide nanotechnology solutions for effective treatment of water to improve the quality of life of the people of South Africa. It seeks to address the objectives of the National Nanotechnology Strategy of South Africa in respect of improving the quality of life by pursuing research and development in water treatment utilizing nanotechnology and polymeric membrane technology.
The centre focuses on the use of polymeric materials and nanomaterials that can be used in a broad range of applications such as filter-beds and ion-exchange resins. These materials are broadly adaptable to different forms including granules, beads and films. Functionality is added by suitable immobilisation of nanoscale metal, inorganic and organic units. The centre’s main area of expertise is the application of synthesis and characterisation techniques to these “functional nanomaterials”. The functional nanomaterials are then applied to the trapping and destruction of water-borne pollutants, especially trace organic and inoganic molecules as well as biological agents.
The NIC forms part of a R&D thrust at UJ’s Applied Chemistry Department that seeks solutions in water treatment and wastewater remediation and other societal challenges emanating from water stress indicators. The centre works closely with local and international research institutions and industries so as to tap into the current cutting edge knowledge and expertise. It also has close links with science councils and water-bodies such as the Water Research Commission. The centre has a strong focus on postgraduate student development, and short working visits by collaborating partners are encouraged.
The following Nanotechnology treatment systems are currently being developed:
• Nanostructured polymeric adsorbent for organics and heavy metals sequestration. Adsorption modules with low pressure drops for fast removal of organics and heavy metals are designed and tested.
• Membrane supported nanocatalysts as treatment options for polluted water and wastewater. Total mineralisation and degradation of organic compounds using membrane supported nanocatalysts which have high degradation rates towards selected compounds are developed and fabricated in-house.
• Hydrophilic nanostructured polymeric membranes for portable water production. Imparting hydrophilicity to old and newly formulated polymeric membranes as a way of minimising fouling and increasing membrane lifespan is generally accepted as the best method.
Dr Richard M. Moutloali
Director DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre – Water Research Node
Tel: +27(0)11 559 6885