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MSU Lecturer In 500 000 Euro Green Economy Research

Dr Gift Mehlana
Dr Gift Mehlana
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Midlands State University (MSU) lecturer, Dr Gift Mehlana has raised the country’s flag high after he was selected together with 44 outstanding researchers from 38 African countries to be part of a five-year fellowship programme, which carries a grant of up to €500 000.Dr Mehlana, a lecturer at the Department of Chemical Sciences at MSU, was selected in the African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence Pilot Programme (ARISE-PP), from over 900 applicants.

With funding from the European Union, the ARISE programme is implemented by African Academy of Sciences (AAS).

The European Commission and the African Union Commission are the strategic oversight partners in the programme.

ARISE, strengthens Africa’s science base through assisting early to mid-career researchers and developing African scientists’ capacity to conduct pioneering research that improves the continent’s long-term development.

Dr Mehlana attended the ARISE inaugural meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, from June 15 to 17 during which he presented his ground-breaking work on “water stable porous metal-organic frameworks as host materials for biological catalysts in carbon dioxide conversion to ethanol.”

In an interview, Dr Mehlana said the grant will provide him with an opportunity to carry out research that will contribute to the emergence of a green economy.

“Climate change and the energy crisis are some of the challenges faced by the global community. Through the ARISE grant, my research team will provide solutions to some of these challenges,” he said.

Dr Mehlana said the grant will also enable MSU to acquire new science equipment that will help the institution to carry out cutting-edge research, which will help address some of the challenges faced in the country.

The grant will promote capacity building in crystal engineering and catalysis at MSU and other collaborating institutions.

Dr Mehlana said the ARISE pilot programme builds the capacity of African researchers to deliver cutting-edge research transforming knowledge into innovation, generating sustainable economic growth and jobs.

“The research seeks to use a metal-organic framework to house enzymes for the purpose of converting carbon dioxide to methanol. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuel to produce energy is causing greatest environmental concerns such as climate change and global warming,” he said.

The research, he said, seeks to use enzymes housed in porous materials to capture and repurpose carbon dioxide emitted from power plants to produce methanol.

“Apart from the clear environmental implications, health and economic benefits are promised because methanol is a clean burning fuel suited to the infrastructure currently available to emerging economies,” he said.

Dr Mehlana said the aim of the project is to produce methanol, which has many applications in a green economy.

“For example, methanol is used in fuel cells that power electric cars. Hydrogen is considered as a green fuel, and methanol can be used as a medium for storing hydrogen,” he said.

“In industrial processes, methanol is used to make a wide range of chemicals that are important to our everyday lives. Furthermore, methanol can be blended with gasoline to reduce pollution levels.”

Dr Mehlana said the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to fight climate change and global warming.

“As a lecturer in the Department of Chemical Sciences at MSU, I am interested in training the next generation of African scientists, with specific profiles in energy production using green and sustainable technologies.

“My research is focused on designing new materials with potential applications in energy production and storage,” he said.

Dr Mehlana, a holder of PhD degree from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said his doctoral work focused on developing new porous materials for chemical sensing.

He is also the president of the Zimbabwe Chemical Society and secretary of the African Crystallographic Association, which seeks to promote science and improve the lives of Africans through crystallography.

Dr Mehlana said he has developed strong collaborative networks with multiple international laboratories. Some of his works have been published in international journals.

Recently, he established a research focus on the applications of porous metal-organic frameworks in catalysis, drug delivery and sensing, winning a number of important awards, notably the PhosAgro/UNESCO/IUPAC award in Green Chemistry (2018).

In 2019 he was appointed as one of the first generation of Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellows.

Dr Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships said the ARISE programme responds to an urgent need to strengthen Africa’s science base by investing in early- to mid-career researchers and building the capacity of African scientists to deliver cutting-edge research to enhance Africa’s sustainable development.

The programme is set to complement the work of participating African research institutions and universities in terms of building a critical mass of role models for African researchers.

Dr Urpilainen said the programme will also secure career development and contribute to retaining research talents on the continent.

“Investing in higher education and research to create a knowledge-based society and economy in Africa is a key priority of the Global Gateway investment package for Africa, and a tangible deliverable of the recent AU-EU Summit. The ARISE pilot programme is a great opportunity for talented early-career scientists aiming to strengthen Africa’s science and innovation base,” he said.

“It is a major step for the EU-Africa academic and scientific cooperation.”

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