National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Josua P Meyer

For developing large numbers of engineering research graduates of the highest quality.

Sponsor: Eskom since 2003

The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for Engineering Research Capacity Development Award was won by Prof Josua P Meyer, Professor and Head: Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering; and Chair: School of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, University of Pretoria. For developing large numbers of engineering research graduates of the highest quality.

It was clean energy and changing the conversation around environmental damage that saw Professor Josua Meyer shift his focus to clean energy in 2010, establishing the Clean Energy Research Group (Cerg) at the University of Pretoria (UP). Meyer is professor and head: Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, UP.

The group, which consists of 10 academic colleagues and up to 50 full-time funded students, focuses on renewable energy using thermal solar (such as concentrated solar power), nuclear and wind. They look at more efficient and suitable heat exchangers used in renewable energy systems. All research contributions within the group have focused on generating environment-friendly energy more cheaply and efficiently, using clean energy sources.

“The generation of clean energy and its consumption — without contributing to environmental damage — is one of the biggest challenges in South Africa, and is an international grand challenge,” Meyer says. “Efficient heat exchangers directly influence the efficiency and energy consumption of electrical power plants and efficiency on the consumption side of industrial processes.”

The impact of his work, and his supervision of students’ work, is significant in that it has found ways to use less energy to produce work and/or power, which in turn reduces pollution and greenhouse gases. More efficient heat exchangers are important to power generation industries, such as processing, manufacturing, air-conditioning, and refrigeration. Meyer and his colleagues and students have also been responsible for the design and construction of more than 10 state-of-the-art experimental set-ups. These are used for leading-edge research into clean energy.

Since founding Cerg, Meyer has supervised 85 postgraduate students, including 24 successful PhD candidates, the majority of whom are black. In that time, he published 179 articles, almost all of which were co-authored with his students, one of which has since been cited in other research 148 times!

In the last 10 years, Meyer and students at Cerg have produced 254 conference papers, with more than 80% of the students presenting the papers themselves. With Cerg funding, every student on average travelled abroad three times to attend international conferences. Of these, 25 won awards for presenting the best papers. His quest for funding students’ research has raised more than R20-million in funding.

“My career highlights are when my students graduate, write an excellent article, or even update me on the progress they’re making at the universities where they are leading research now, such as MIT, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Oxford,” Meyer says. “I love hearing their feedback about their professional work, just as much as I love getting photos and updates of their families. My hope is that my students will continue with my work, and mentor others too.” — Kerry Haggard

To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.

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