BIUST receives windfall to support graduate training

The Botswana International University of Science & Technology (BIUST) - has participated in the implementation of the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI).

The Science Granting Councils Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI) is focused on strengthening the capacities of Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in order to support research and evidence-based policies that will contribute to economic and social development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Science Granting Councils are bodies or agencies in countries that support development and growth of science in those countries. Here Professors Edison Muzenda (PhD) from the Faculty of Engineering and Technology and Gizaw Mengistu Tsidu (PhD) with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences OR Tambo Africa Research Chair-Climate Change break down how the university benefited from the SGCI and proposes the way forward.

BG: How has participation in the Science Granting Council Initiative influenced BIUST internal capacity to perform its functions?

BIUST: Research at BIUST is conducted largely through research networks and units, which include groups, chairs and centres. These units help in consolidating the use of resources in an optimal way, help build research culture and provide an environment for mentorship.

The participation in the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI) provides direct research funding to researches and students. This has significantly motivated researchers, helped to strengthen research culture and improve innovative research at BIUST. For example, in the Coal beneficiation for the metallurgical industry project, funding has strengthened the Natural Resources Beneficiation and Sustainable Energy Research Group.

The Group in now well-established with senior professors, lecturers, and students. Additionally, as a result of participation in SGCI, BIUST has been awarded external funding of ZAR 15, 000, 000 over the next five (5) years.
In addition, our parent Ministry (Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology (MOTE)/ Department of Research Science and Technology (DRST)) awarded 3.2 million Pula to BIUST to support graduate training under OR Tambo African Research Chair (ORTARCHi) initiative.

Therefore BIUST will use the fund for research infrastructure development, research and graduate training.

BG: Has participation in the SGCI led to new partners, networks, coalitions or collaborations (including projects and research)?  If yes, please provide examples and the focus of the new partnerships/collaborations/projects.

BIIUST: Yes, participating in the SGCI has led to a new collaboration opportunity with the University of Zimbabwe. The bilateral project between BIUST and the University of Zimbabwe focuses on Cola beneficiation for the metallurgical industry. Local networks especially with Botswana Geoscience Institute and Pyrocarbon Energy have been strengthened and have become active and productive.

As a result of participation in SGCI and subsequent award of external and national grants (i.e. ORTARCHi and MOTE funding), BIUST is one of the universities in the region which is selected through ORTARCHi chair to develop grand proposal entitled “Co-design of hydro-meteorological information system for sustainable water resources management in Southern Africa (CO-HYDIM-SA)” in collaboration with institutions in Germany, South Africa and Namibia through competitive process.

The proposal development itself attracted 150, 000 EURO for the next year. BIUST will host planning workshop in April this year.

BG: As stated above, BIUST in partnership with the University of Zimbabwe is conducting research on mineral beneficiation. Kindly share with us the focus of the research

BIUST: The focus of the bilateral project “Coal Beneficiation for the Metallurgical Industry” is to establish a comprehensive Botswana and Zimbabwe coal database in which the coal and coal seam properties are catalogued.

Literature on the effects of process conditions on various types of coal with the aim to produce metallurgical coke that meets the required qualities will also be reviewed. This will include extensive research into the factors which improve coke properties.

Thereafter, extensive testing will be done on producing metallurgical coke using Botswana and Zimbabwe coals as feedstock. This experimental work will also include optimisation of the process conditions to maximise coke properties. The project objectives are:
a)    To characterise and/or consolidate properties of Botswana and Zimbabwe coals.
This will be done by collecting this information from other organisations, in the case of Botswana, Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI), Morupule Mine and other existing and new coal seams. In cases where information is not available, local and regional laboratories will be used to carry out the analysis.
b)    To create a database of metallurgical coke properties and link them to different metallurgical processes.
c)    To perform characterisation tests on char/coke samples produced in the lab. Most of these characterisation tests will be outsourced to reputable third-party laboratories.
d)    To investigate other potential application of char
e)    To devise process routes to upgrade pyrolysis char to metallurgical coke grade.
This will be the key area of the work where researchers will look at the char properties and desired metallurgical coke properties then devise process routes for the needed upgrade.
Known theoretical processes will be considered alongside novel ones from research articles.

BG: Have there been opportunities to inform/influence policy processes? If yes, which policy processes and what were the outcomes?

BIUST: In the context of policy processes, there are two aspects of the initiative: one is about fund management and the other is about creating research units. The University was in the process of developing policies and guidelines on creating research units and management of research grants.

However, the SGCI catalysed the process and already the University has developed some policies and some groups are now very active such as Natural Resources Beneficiation and Sustainable Energy and Mineral Processing Groups.

These two groups received three (30 research project funding from SGCI). The two groups are doing quality and relevant research which is accessible to policy makers.

BG: Has there been a change in the funding/investment levels as a result of your participation in the SGCI? Please describe any changes (increase/decrease) in the funding/investment levels.

BIUST: The networks created by this initiative will be the platforms for collaborations on co-authorship, co-submission of proposals, co-supervision and collaboration with industries. All this will increase the opportunities for attracting more research funds and commercialisation of research outputs.

In the long term, it is expected that there will be an increase in external funded projects and decrease in the internally funded ones. In this way, the University will have extra funds devoted to institutional capacity development.

BG: Botswana, through the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), is among the first ten (10) SGCI member states to host a Research Chair under the OR Tambo Africa Research Chair Initiative (ORTARCHi): Kindly share with us any projects carried out under this initiative

BIUST: BIUST has recently received the funding, although the award was announced a long time back. The delay was due to COVID-19 related constraints. We have accepted graduate students who are working on:
•    Agriculture and hydrological drought in Botswana
•    Identification of indigenous plant species using morphology and molecular methods and their response to climate change in Botswana, which includes conducting veldt assessment, diversity, abundance, and distribution of indigenous plant species
•    Extraction of vital protein from chicken feathers and their potential as animal feed. BIUST is also in the process of procurement of high-performance workstation with several processors for climate modelling. Some of the equipment will be used in connection with research that deals with assessment of land cover change, water quality, water resource availability and climate change, all which are the focus of OR Tambo African Research Chair initiative at BIUST. For example, we will study the impact of land use and land cover change, invasive species as well as climate on the water quality in Botswana based on satellite remote sensing and the spectroradiometer measurements.

BG: Kindly share any top three (3) lessons/tips from implementing the SGCI projects and suggestions for SGCI future projects.

BIUST: Top lessons from implementing this project by BIUST include:

a)    The need for effective planning, budgetary control, and teamwork
b)    The need for effective leadership and management. Leading by example and from the front is one of my greatest takeaways
c)    Understanding of the Botswana and Zimbabwe coal characteristics and possible applications singularly and through blending

Our suggestions for future research projects are:

a)    An increase in the budget to allow the project to have a life cycle of 3-5 years instead of two years. This will allow the development of the project from research to possible commercialisation.
b)    To allow researchers to work through milestones in parallel than in series especially for short cycle (2 years). However, this will require the release of funds in bulk rather than after the successful completion of the first or another milestone.
c)    To increase project budgets and project life cycle.