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Nelson Mandela University South Africa |

Port Elizabeth

Keywords related to the available technology.
Low smoke fuel Renewable energy

The project involves the development of a low-emission solid fuel, primarily aimed at developing a replacement fuel for the household use of coal and biomass (wood). While the concept of a “smokeless coal” is well known, and such products are used extensively internationally, all attempts to introduce a low-smoke fuel into the South African market have failed to date because, in most cases, the alternatives did not meet the sociological and cultural requirements of consumers. The fact remains that more than a million households are still using coal as their form of household energy, and are paying the price for it, not necessarily in monetary terms, but by ill health, poor quality of life and accidental death (CO poisoning and fires).  It is rather sobering to consider that about 40% of all visible air pollution in South Africa is caused by households using coal. 

A low-smoke fuel was developed by combining microalgae with discard coal fines and processing the product through a pyrolytic process.  The resultant product has excellent combustion and physical characteristics and burns with almost no particulate matter emissions.  Two new solid fuel stoves were also developed

Relevant intellectual property protection in place for this technology.
Design - Functional
What is the technology owner looking for? E.g. collaboration, investment, sales, etc.
Collaboration Distribution Investment Joint venture Research
Brief description of the technology’s market need.

Successful electrification of households across South Africa has made little impact on the rate at which coal is consumed by households (for cooking and space heating) due to the costs associated with electrical heating. The problem of pollution from emissions by coal and wood fires in homes is well recognised and has received massive funding for R&D since the mid-1990s but without the successful delivery of a product that has been taken up by the market. 

Brief description of the technology’s benefits.

The low-smoke fuel developed here:

  • Burns longer, on average at least 50% longer than coal and wood
  • Reduces environmental pollution
  • Can provide job creation opportunities
  • Can be competitively priced; and
  • Is cost-effective.


The attributes of the technology that makes it unique.

A combination of microalgae and waste coal ultra-fines that are otherwise wasted and not monetised, often discarded in slime dams or buried.

The main idea behind the technology is described.

The goal of this project was to produce a low-smoke fuel with identical end-use characteristics as coal, but without the negative pollution aspects, thereby alleviating the serious social impacts mentioned above.  The product had to be cost-competitive with coal in the target markets. 

The team and expertise behind the technology.

Shaka Shabangu, Sifundo Duma, Brian Tait

The technology was developed by an organisation in the following sector(s).
Higher education
The industry(s) relevant to the technology. Which industries can benefit from this technology?
Waste reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and disposal
The technology area relevant to the technology.
Renewable Energy
The Technology Readiness Level of the available technology. For more information on the Technology Readiness Levels, please follow the link: Technology Readiness Levels
TRL 8: Validation and certification of the technology
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