National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Sehliselo Ndlovu

Prof Sehliselo Ndlovu

Investing in the backbone of society

The Engineering Research Capacity Development Award recognises achievement by an individual over five to 10 years in the fields of science, engineering and technology (SET). This award focuses on furthering research and engineering and capacity development of students. This year Professor Sehliselo Ndlovu was nominated for her work in the area of hydrometallurgical research. Her list of achievements is impressive, spanning the establishment of world-class research facilities that are extensively used for research and training of postgraduate students and contributes to knowledge creation and human capacity development in the field of hydrometallurgy in the country.   

“Hydrometallurgy involves subjecting different minerals to different types of solutions to extract the metals more effectively and efficiently. My work involves the  development of  new processes  and technologies to  improve metal  extraction,” says Ndlovu. “When I started out, there wasn’t a lot of research and training being done in hydrometallurgy at Wits considering that South Africa is a big mining country, I felt that there was a need to establish a research and training centre that can build skills and technology for the mining industry.”

Ndlovu identified a gap in the market and focused on developing capacity in the extractive metallurgy industry that involved research as well as training. She started off with a small startup fund provided by her department at Wits, one PhD student and a laboratory with minimal equipment. She undertook most of her early research using shared equipment with the University of Johannesburg and furthered her understanding of the industry through research and hands-on experience. Since then, she has raised more than R30-million in research funding from both the public and private sector to purchase and maintain research equipment, drive research activities and support research students. 

The output of her research tends to align to the current and future needs of the local mineral extraction industry. The generated  knowledge is shared through publications, at conferences, workshops and seminars.  Furthermore, some of the research work has resulted in the development of novel approaches to metal extraction that have been patented for future commercialisation.

“We now have a large number of students working on different projects that focus on minerals and metals that are of interest to South Africa, such as gold, platinum and other critical metals. Most of the projects focus on improving the existing metal extraction processes and developing new ones in order to contribute to the extractive metallurgy industry,” concludes Ndlovu. “We’re also not doing the research for the sake of research or training for the sake of training — this is all focused on aiding capacity and the economy of the country while building up the next generation of CEOs and leaders within the sector.” — Tamsin Oxford

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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