(Published - 28 October 2019)
“Innovation isn’t just about the successful implementation of new or improved products, processes and services derived from new ideas and inventions. It’s also about the creation of real social value - making life better for people.”
That is why many of the University of the Western Cape’s most interesting innovations are aimed at impacting poor, disadvantaged communities - as Dr Ana Casanueva, Director of the Technology Transfer Office (TTO), explained at UWC Research & Innovation Week 2019.
“Our mission is to support and facilitate the effective and efficient transfer of our research outputs that may have benefits for our researchers, our community and our society,” Dr Casanueva said. “We have to create real value.”
Launched in 2012, the Technology Transfer Office helps promote the development, protection and commercialisation of intellectual property by the University’s research community, staff and students alike - and to encourage and help entrepreneurs and startups.
Here are five of UWC’s world-changing innovations.
- Wonders From Waste - Fly Ash Geopolymers: The NDP calls for working infrastructure and a clean environment - and UWC is doing its part. Coal fly ash is the waste produced from burning coal for electricity. But Prof Leslie Petrik and her team have found wondrous uses for this waste. They have found a way to use it to treat contaminated water from acid mine drainage. Now they are also producing geopolymers that can be used for construction materials - cost-effective, durable waste beneficiation. With development funding from TIA, they have demonstrated prototypes of materials (roof tiles, poles, bricks).
- Access For All - Zenzeleni, SA’s First Co-Op-Owned ISP: Data must fall, as the saying goes - especially in rural South Africa where infrastructure is scarce and mobile networks can be prohibitively expensive. The Zenzeleni mesh network - a joint project between UWC’s Bridging Applications Network Group (BANG) and the community of rural Mankosi - enables connectivity through low-cost internet and voice calls in rural areas. The network covers 30km2 and is made up of a dozen routers running open-source firmware and software. The system is powered by solar panels installed on the roofs of the host homes. They hope to extend this project to other communities.
- Managing Our Most Personal Information - Baobab LIMS: Biosciences and health sciences are advancing quickly, with new technologies and techniques invented every day. But many African countries cannot afford to manage biosamples in an appropriate manner. SANBI’sBaobab LIMS is a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for biobanking that was developed by African and European researchers as part of the Horizon2020 funding framework project “B3Africa”. Designed for the collection, processing and storage of human biospecimens, Baobab LIMS is free and open source, and can be customized to the specific needs of any particular laboratory. It is already being used in 11 African countries.