Fort Hare Institute of Technology: Promoting Innovation and Research Excellence - since 1999
The Fort Hare Institute of Technology (FHIT) was established in 1999. Its core mandate is to promote innovation and research excellence through interdisciplinary collaboration, in relation to energy production and use.
Based on the Alice campus, the institute is currently led by its capable Director, Professor Edson Meyer.
The FHIT focuses on four key areas:
- Solar Energy
- Bio Energy
- Smart Energy Systems and;
- Sustainable Development Studies
Over the years, FHIT has worked closely with several stakeholders to produce and implement world-class groundbreaking research. These include Eskom, Vodacom, Engen, National Research Fund (NRF), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), Water Research Commission (WRC), Agricultural Research Council, and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
Solar energy research at FHIT spans the entire value chain - from development of new materials and substrates such as nanotubes for photochemical solar cells - to performance, degradation and failure of analysis of both solar cells and solar modules, both indoors and outdoors.
At the heart of the institute’s research is a group of vibrant, passionate young minds pursuing postgraduate studies in Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science and others.
Smart energy systems employed in the built environment through Building Integrated Photovoltaics is also one of the institute’s flagship programmes and a prime example of sustainable development. The energy-efficient house produces and consumes its own electricity requirements through smart energy algorithms as well as its own hot water requirements. The additionality of passive solar design features allows sunlight to heat the rear (south side) of the internal building. This improves the thermal efficiency substantially, especially in winter when the sun is low in the sky.
The ingenuity of FHIT research has advanced the lives of many rural households and brought about sustainable development in communities. A notable deliverable is the development of low-income houses utilizing similar passive solar design features through clerestory windows (Figure 6), to improve the thermal comfort of conventional low-income households from 47% to 78%. This reduces the cost of electricity required to heat or cool the house.
The design and installation of a biomass gasifier using innovative airflow dynamics gave rise to a biotechnology bakery while addressing waste management of the supplying sawmill in an environmentally sustainable manner. The additionality of this innovative project are food and job opportunities.
Improving the quality of life
Biogas digesters for domestic cooking have been the focus of our continued research where primarily, cow manure is used to generate methane gas (which is 19 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than CO2) to address the cooking requirements of rural households. Not only do these digesters negate the impact of methane as a greenhouse gas or electricity required to run two-plate stoves, but also results in a monthly cost savings (avoidance) of R800 by already cash-strapped households. The savings then adds to the expendable income of these households, thereby improving their quality of life.
Through its strategic research endeavors, FHIT has, between 2008 and 2020, facilitated the research of more than 75 Postdoctoral Fellowships, PhD and MSc graduates, with more than 300 associated research articles, conference proceedings and technical reports.