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Coal mining by-product may offer building solution

- Wits University

Recipient of the DAAD grant scholarship is currently in Germany testing engineering ideas behind his research.

2021 winner of the Daad Scholarship Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe

Coal is the primary source of energy in South Africa and is also used in the chemical and steel industries. However useful it maybe, coal mining companies and related sectors have to deal with the disposal problem of coal waste, an uneconomic by-product.

A Wits PhD chemical engineering candidate is investigating how coal waste combined with preceramic polymer resin can be used to produce conventional building materials like roof tiles. 

Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe, who is in his second year of PhD studies says that ‘the environmental concerns of coal waste and the exciting and interdisciplinary nature of the research led to the selection this area of research.”

According to a report by the Department of Energy, coal constitutes approximately 72% of the country’s energy supply, and is mostly used for power generation. Thus, the waste generated during this process is significant and holds great potential.

Local and International supervision

Eterigho-Ikelegbe is currently in Germany to research polymer resin material, an important product which can be used to bind and harness coal waste to produce conventional building material.

The aim of his research is to find a suitable ratio of coal waste and preceramic polymer resin to produce structural/building composites that maintains the strength and durability of conventional building materials.

“If this research is successful, it could significantly impact the SA coal industry and society as using coal waste in place of virgin raw materials would lead to energy savings, job creation, and resource conservation,’ he says.

Eterigho-Ikelegbe’s academic sojourn is courtesy of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) grant scholarship, also known as the German Academic Exchange Service. The scholarship provides grant support for outstanding students, globally, to conduct their research in collaboration with a state-recognised institution of higher education or a non-university research institute in Germany. Applications for 2022 are now open.

He is currently a visiting student in the Materials and Earth Sciences Department at the Technische Universität Darmstadt (TUD) a public research university in Darmstadt.

International exchanges are the way to go

TUD is a perfect fit as preceramic polymer resins is well researched in the country, says Eterigho-Ikelegbe.

“I believe that my supervisors’ [at TUD] extensive experience in the area of my research will no doubt have a profound effect on the robustness of my doctoral thesis,” he says.

Eterigho-Ikelegbe also believes that this research opportunity will propel his career in the future, saying that during his time at TUD, he is expected to publish his findings in peer-reviewed journals and present at a conference.

Apart from advancing his research career, Eterigho-Ikelegbe has a passion for helping his peers excel in their postgraduate studies. “On my return [to South Africa], I hope to facilitate DAAD bootcamps to assist other researchers and scholars secure DAAD scholarship grant.”  “I am [also] keen on building solid collaborations with other researchers locally and internationally.”

More than anything, Eterigho-Ikelegbe is proud to represent Wits University internationally.

“I consider myself a ‘proud Witsie’ because of the opportunities that enrolling for a research degree at Wits has exposed me to,” he says. “I have received invaluable training and mentorship from my Wits supervisors, past and present.”

He also encourages students to take the leap and apply for the DAAD scholarship grant programmes. He says that a major benefit to the DAAD scholarship grant is that one can apply for it at any stage of one’s research career (masters, PhD, and postdoctoral), giving students ample time and opportunity to prepare their application.

“My advice for students is to seek such opportunities to advance themselves.”

A key message that Eterigho-Ikelegbe wants to leave students is to never let fear keep them from doing anything.

“Never be afraid to take on global opportunities,” he says. “Do not sell yourself short, just go for it.”

Wits University has a variety of student exchange agreements with international partner institutions. Students are encouraged to spend part of their studies and/or research abroad as this is essential in producing competitive graduates and the internationalisation of education. The University, as a top ranked University globally, also plays host to hundreds of inbound students from other universities, attracted to the University by its academic and research profile. Both outbound and inbound exchanges are facilitated by the Wits International Students Office.