Pro­fes­sor fi­nal­ist in awards for work on clean­ing ‘acid’ wa­ter

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - KOWTHAR SOLOMONS

UNIVER­SITY of the Western Cape (UWC) Pro­fes­sor Leslie Petrik is fly­ing the flag high for her in­sti­tu­tion and the prov­ince, be­ing named a fi­nal­ist in the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try’s tech­nol­ogy awards for her work on clean­ing wa­ter af­fected by acid rain drainage.

Petrik, who was also recog­nised for her ef­forts in train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of re­searchers, and who works in the univer­sity’s nat­u­ral sci­ence depart­ment, has been named a fi­nal­ist in the hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment cat­e­gory for this work.

Al­though she took the run- ner-up place be­hind Pro­fes­sor Jan­nie Ma­ree from the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Petrik won wide praise.

Acid rain drainage, a byprod­uct of min­ing, made head­lines re­cently, as the de­bate be­tween wa­ter se­cu­rity in South Africa and the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the min­ing sec­tor rages.

Acid rain drainage forms through a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion when oxy­gen and air come into con­tact with pyrite, also known as iron sul­phide, a rock type as­so­ci­ated with coal and gold mines.

This re­ac­tion be­tween oxy­gen, wa­ter and pyrite forms sul­phuric acid and dis­solves th­ese rocks, form­ing acid mine drainage. It is a ma­jor con­cern be­cause it poi­sons any wa­ter it comes into con­tact with.

Al­though acid rain drainage ef­fects are cen­tred on the gold fields and coal mines of Gaut­eng, North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State, so­lu­tions are be­ing worked to­wards at UWC.

Petrik and her re­search team, who have been work­ing with the depart­ment for the past nine years, said al­though it may not af­fect the Western Cape di­rectly, “it is a South African chal­lenge, as we are all South Africans”.

“We want to con­trib­ute to­wards find­ing so­lu­tions.”

They have been us­ing fly ash to pu­rify wa­ter.

“Solid or­ganic com­po­nents from the soil are ab­sorbed into the coal as it is formed. Be­cause we use a lower-grade coal in South Africa, with only about 60 per­cent of coal con­tent, the re­main­ing waste left be­hind af­ter burn­ing the coal are the in­or­ganic com­po­nents,” Petrik said.

“The huge amount of waste ash left af­ter burn­ing the coal is clas­si­fied as two types: bot­tom ash – which is the larger, heav­ier par­ti­cles – and fly ash, which is light and floats into the sky.

“Fly ash con­tains a large amount of al­ka­line sub­stances which in­crease the pH of the acid mine drainage to counter the acid- ity in the wa­ter.

“If not for our process, the fly ash may be piled on to slag heaps and never used again,” Petrik said.

The process re­moves most harm­ful met­als from the wa­ter within an hour, leav­ing the re­cov­ered wa­ter suit­able for agri­cul­tural use.

If it was pol­ished to re­move any re­main­ing hazards, it would also be safe for drink­ing.

Petrik said the fly ash could also be used to make ze­olytes, which can be used in the pro­duc­tion of chem­i­cals, or for sep­a­rat­ing gases or cap­tur­ing and stor­ing carbon diox­ide.

She and her team hoped to con­tinue re­fin­ing the fly ash process with a 1 000-litre pi­lot trial at a con­tam­i­nated site in Krugers­dorp in March next year.

Lionel Oc­to­ber, the depart­ment’s di­rec­tor gen­eral, ap­plauded re­searchers like Petrik for their ef­forts in tak­ing tech­nol­ogy for­ward.

“The pur­pose of tech­nol­ogy awards is to raise aware­ness of the ben­e­fits of us­ing tech­nol­ogy to im­prove the com­pet­i­tive­ness of en­ter­prises,” Oc­to­ber said.

“The awards recog­nise in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions (work­ing) to­wards tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion in South Africa.

“They are also aimed at in­spir­ing and en­cour­ag­ing cre­ativ­ity and tech­no­log­i­cal inno- va­tive­ness among busi­ness peo­ple, by re­ward­ing those who make use of tech­nol­ogy to ad­vance their busi­nesses,” he said.

AQUAWOMAN: Leslie Petrik

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