School of Life Sciences

Dr Wynston Woodenberg (far left) with other scientists on the YSEP programme and the Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian (fifth left).

Researcher Heads to China to Enhance Work on Waste and Climate Change

Dr Wynston Woodenberg, a postdoctoral researcher working under the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Waste and Climate Change, is one of seven South African scientists selected to be part of the South Africa-China Young Scientists Exchange Programme (YSEP).

The programme was established for an initial five-year period in 2017 in terms of an agreement between South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. Other participants come from the Agricultural Research Council, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Limpopo.

‘I feel honoured to be a part of the handful of young scientists chosen for the programme and I’m looking forward to acquiring new knowledge and skills in an area of research that has great potential for South Africa,’ said Woodenberg.

He departed at the end of June 2019 to spend six months at the Institute of Waste Treatment and Reclamation (IWTR) at Tongji University in Shanghai, as part of a collaboration between the IWTR, the SARChI Chair in Waste and Climate Change Professor Cristina Trois, and the Plant Ecophysiology Research Unit at UKZN headed by Professor Sershen Naidoo.

The IWTR is one of the world leaders in leachate treatment and waste management research, having recently conducted innovative research on the production and application of organic waste-derived biochar, a charcoal-like product produced by the thermal decomposition of organic matter in the presence of little or no oxygen.

While at the IWTR, Woodenberg plans to learn as much as possible about biochar production and characterisation, and conduct collaborative research.

He explained that biochar production is a more environmentally friendly method of decreasing the amount of landfilled organic waste and minimising the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during decomposition of organic waste. It also serves as a method to turn waste into a resource; biochar has a range of beneficial applications from serving as a carbon sink to soil enhancement for improved crop yield.

Woodenberg is currently undertaking postdoctoral research on the optimisation of constructed wetlands and phytocapping systems for the treatment of landfill leachate and containment of closed landfills, respectively. This will contribute to the development of improved methods to manage the organic fraction of municipal solid waste and leachate for the minimisation of greenhouse gas emission from landfills.

The YSEP programme, which has received strong support from the governments of South Africa and China, is an investment in emerging scientists who are working on solutions to challenges in the environmental and health sectors, as well as other areas of society, said Mr Daan du Toit of the DST at a farewell ceremony for the group in April.

The programme promotes cross border exchange of excellent young scientists, scholars and researchers to enhance cooperation among research institutes, universities and enterprises.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied