Zim engineer scores a first

A Zimbabwean chemical engineer, Collins Saguru, has been named the first ever finalist from the country for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Engineer Collins Saguru
Engineer Collins Saguru

Engineer Saguru, who is based in South Africa, developed AltMet, a process that recovers the precious metals found in the autocatalytic converters of all petrol and diesel vehicles, in a cheap and sustainable way.

The engineer is hopeful that his invention will also be the first Zimbabwean Africa Prize winner. Africa Prize is the continent’s biggest prize dedicated to developing the entrepreneurial skills of engineers.

In a statement, Africa Prize said the innovation, which uses a cheap and sustainable recycling method to recover precious metals, has made it into the finals of the prestigious 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

“He developed AltMet, a process that recovers the precious metals found in the autocatalytic converters of all petrol and diesel vehicles. The common car part reduces the toxicity of vehicle gas emissions, and the converter itself contains the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) platinum, palladium and rhodium. These are all valuable and useful for industrial processes, and on the European Union’s Critical Materials List, making a strong case for recycling them,” it said.

Africa Prize said existing recycling methods require high temperatures, and consequently, a lot of energy. Eng Saguru dismantles used autocatalytic converters, crushes and leaches them before extracting the PGMs, using much lower temperatures than current recycling methods.

“This means the process is more affordable and emits fewer toxic gases. The chemical reagents used by AltMet are cheap, relatively common and environmentally friendly,” it said noting that Eng Saguru was already in negotiations with local partners to set up a comprehensive pilot project in the near future.

Other inventions in the finals include a device that detects malaria without drawing blood, an innovative smart meter that gives consumers more control over energy use and a textbook-sized science lab for kids.

The finalists come from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and were chosen for engineering innovations that provide new solutions.

“All four of our finalists have found novel ways to address critical challenges in their home countries — in fact, problems that are faced all over the world.
“We’re proud to be part of the development of world-class African technologies, and to support emerging African entrepreneurs,” Africa Prize judge, Ms Rebecca Enonchong, said.

The finalists were selected from a pool of 16 shortlisted candidates from seven countries spanning sub-Saharan Africa and for the first time, Zimbabwe and Ghana were being represented by Africa Prize finalists.

“All 16 candidates have received tailored business mentorship, developing skills that last a lifetime. Engineers are among the best problem solvers in the world — and it’s imperative that we support those who embark on business ventures that advance technology in all fields,” said Ms Enonchong.

Africa Prize innovations have made an impact in a variety of countries and sectors, addressing problems like climate change, food security, utilities infrastructure, and access to transport and education.

The 2018 finalists tackle challenges in STEM education, household energy use, responsible resource use in the automotive industry and appropriate medical technologies for Africa. The Chronicle