Zimbabwe research institutions have announced that they are on the verge of technological break through to produce hydrogen for energy and lithium ion batteries that are key in the transformation and industrialisation of the country.
Chinhoyi University Of Technology CUT’s Innovation Hub is accessing the lithium ore from Bikita Minerals which it is processing to extract the lithium needed for battery production, ultimately aiming to go commercial.
Lithium-ion batteries or Li-ion batteries are rechargeable through solar and mainline power, presenting a solution to electricity challenges in the country. The batteries have a high energy density, no memory effect, and have low self-discharge.
While the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) will this month start producing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kits for testing the Covid-19 virus, the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) is set to start producing lithium ion batteries and hydrogen mid this year.
The move is bein spearheaded by technological research outputs driven by the new results-oriented education 5.0 policy.
CUT is also expected to design battery casings using its 3D printing machine at the hub, located 7km south of the institution’s main campus, in the industrial area of the provincial capital.
The university’s lithium battery production innovation is part of the other two energy production projects that the Innovation Hub has embarked on.
It has a 24-kilowatt solar-powered grid that sufficiently supports the hub’s needs while efforts to start extracting hydrogen from water for energy purposes are at an advanced stage.
The hub’s acting director, Professor Wilbert Mtangi, who also directs the Institute of Materials Science Processing and Technology, said that the incubation of the lithium-ion battery production was almost complete.
“We are getting the lithium spodumene ore from Bikita Minerals, which we are processing in such a way that it gives us lithium needed for lithium-ion battery production. The batteries will be for the institution’s power energy as we try to address the challenges of power cuts. There is also hope that we will be going commercial,” he said.
Prof Mtangi added that there was a need for Zimbabwe to utilise the 200-sunny days it has in a year to produce solar electricity.
“As an institution of technology, we are innovating towards addressing electricity shortages hence we are venturing into lithium-ion battery production. It is also ideal for Zimbabweans to harness solar energy to lessen the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority’s (ZESA) power grid deficit. We have 200-sunny days in a year,” he added.
In its hydrogen production project, the university recently installed an electrolysis plant that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, to produce environmentally-friendly energy that cuts emissions as the world goes green on vehicles and factories.
The innovative minds at the CUT’s Innovation Hub are moving in line with the world’s development as China plans to have 1 million vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells on its roads by the end of 2030 while Australia intends to invest $214 million to speed the development of four hydrogen hubs with 26 gigawatts capacity.
CUT is also involved in Covid-19 interventions, producing sanitisers and masks and, with the proceeds from sales, it started a company called CUT-Kleen which focuses mainly on detergents and washing liquid.
“Above all, we are focusing on dairy production and we have a big parlour in the country where we anticipate that we will be producing a wide range of dairy products.”
Various information and communication technology (ICT), artificial intelligence, and artificial insemination projects are also being developed with at least five students on internship enrolled for these innovations.’
“In every project that we have, we have at least five students that are involved and this depends on their area of expertise because if you look at innovation, it needs incubation that requires market research, hence marketing students; technological support from engineering students and financial support which comes from accounting and related students. This means we have quite a composition of students coming from various disciplines.”
The university last year partnered with ZB Bank to run an artificial insemination project for farmers in Mhangura whose main purpose was to improve beef and dairy herds.
Prof Mtangi said the success of the Innovation Hub depended on the inclusion of students from marketing, various technical and financial departments whose co-existing relationships help produce competitive products.
The introduction of the hub presented rare opportunities to Raymond Nyakudanga, a final-year Mechatronics Engineering student and Chido Mundawarima, a third-year Chemistry student.
Nyakudanga is currently the laboratory assistant at the hub where he solves the technical issues, assisting in project developments.
“Being at the Innovation Hub for me is a great opportunity as I now know a lot of stuff that I didn’t know when I came here. The hub gave me more space to think of innovative ideas because as we speak right now, some of my colleagues might still be at a level where they may not know how to make up projects and come up with innovative ideas that are problem-solving to the country.
“I’m going to be helpful to the industry by coming up with innovative and internet of ideas (IOT) to help solve problems and thinking smartly,” said the youthful nerd who has also brought several innovative ideas, some of which are being implemented.
He is one of the few persons in the country able to operate a state-of-the-art and sophisticated computer numeric-controlled lathe machine, with which he has made various inventions.
Mundawarima said she was putting her innovative skills to good use through the hub.
“Here at the hub, we are not taught how to practically manufacture detergents, which we theoretically do at school but we are also taught to be entrepreneurial. For example, I now know how to make formulations of detergents and how to improve other products manufactured by other producers.
“Most of the graduates here in Zimbabwe end up doing nothing with their knowledge and skills, hence the Government should come into action by financially supporting graduates so that they start their own businesses as a way of creating employment.”
She is part of the students that are attached at the hub working at the sanitiser, detergents and water purification plants.
President Mnangagwa has on several occasions exhorted the youth to be innovative and has made a commitment to ensure the necessary financial resources are provided.