UKZN Scientist Highlights Potato Waste Energy Potential at China Convention

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Microbiology student Ms Funmilayo Faloye (left)
with Professor Moa Zongqiang, President of
Hydrogen Energy China.

Microbiology PhD student Ms Funmilayo Faloye recently presented a paper on optimising biohydrogen production from potato waste at the fifth World Hydrogen Technologies Convention in Shanghai, China. 

Her paper entitled, “Modelling of Biohydrogen Production on Potato Peels Supplemented with Wastewater”, was the only one from Africa and attracted a great deal of positive feedback from leading experts in the field. 

The Conference was organised with the foremost objective of creating avenues to develop hydrogen energy-related technology. Attracting more than 1 000 scientists and delegates from across the globe including government officials, scientists and industry experts, it provided an ideal platform on which to share knowledge and ideas related to hydrogen energy, fuel cells and the development of a hydrogen economy. 

The overall scope of Faloye’s PhD, which is supervised jointly by Dr Evariste Gueguim Kana and Professor Stefan Schmidt of the School of Life Sciences, relates to the optimisation of key process parameters and development of inocula which could enhance hydrogen conversion efficiency from agro food waste. 

‘Presently, dwindling fossil fuel reserves necessitate intense research on alternative environmentally friendly energy sources. One approach is the production of biohydrogen which is an attractive future energy carrier due to its high energy density, and higher efficiency of conversion to potentially lower to zero the generation of pollutants,’ said Faloye. 

Biomass, including agricultural, lignocellulosic and food processing waste, is an excellent feedstock for renewable hydrogen production because it is cheap and readily available, therefore countries with large agricultural economies like South Africa have the potential for significant economic development through industrial bioenergy generation.

‘Fermentative hydrogen production is still new in Africa and I hope that my research will lead to the development of low cost and high energy yield renewable hydrogen energy techniques by employing agro waste to energy’, she explained.

Faloye described the Conference as a memorable and exciting experience which presented her with opportunities to collaborate with other researchers from around the world. ‘I was able to learn more skills and the latest techniques, and I interacted with scholars from different areas of hydrogen research’, she said. ‘The highlight of the conference for me was the study tour to the Shanghai Hydrogen Energy and Fuel Cells Research Institute.’ 

‘Generally, I think that Africa is still lagging behind in renewable energy research, and we should be more innovative and not wait for developed countries like the United States, Germany, Canada and China to sell the technology to us. Also, it is of utmost importance for researchers to collaborate with government and industries to implement such innovative technologies,’ she said.