School of Accounting, Economics and Finance doctoral student Mr Michael Smith’s passion for environmental research secured him the Renewable Energy Research Excellence Up and Coming Young Researcher Award.

The award conferred by the Renewable Energy Centre of Research and Development (RECORD) recognises the contribution of established as well as upcoming researchers and novel renewable energy research in South Africa.

To scoop the award, Smith - who holds a BSocSci in Economics and Media Studies and a BSocSci Hons in Economics from UKZN – used his thesis titled: “The Financial and Economic Feasibility of Biodigester use and Biogas Production for Rural Households”, which secured him a Master of Commerce degree in Economics, summa cum laude in April.

The study, funded by the Water Research Commission and National Research Foundation, relates to a five-year project, WRC K5/1955 being conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. It aims to assess a biodigester, as a complete system, to provide energy for households, while increasing the fertility of land and improving the grassland carrying capacity for livestock.

‘My study looked at the financial implications and also the economic or societal impacts. Although the financial results showed that the systems were not financial feasible for rural household application, the economic results showed significant societal worth of these technologies. Further research needs to be done in order to bring down the capital cost of the systems,’ said Smith.

Smith, who recently made a presentation on this study at the Symposium on Energy from Biomass and Waste held in Venice, is currently working on his PhD thesis with the Water Research Commission Project (K5/1955).

His experience from the symposium coupled with winning the award and the wealth of academic knowledge from his studies has inspired him to continue with his research into the field of Waste-to-Energy (WtE).

‘My focus in this field will continue to be from an economic perspective. The field of Waste-to-Energy, which includes a vast variety of technologies that essentially convert waste into energy, has the potential to assist in resolving both our waste and energy problems.

‘My belief is that WtE technologies need to make “business sense” in order to remain sustainable, and thus economics is a vital consideration,’ said Smith.

RECORDS Centre Manager, Dr Karen Surridge-Talbot said they received several applications for the Up and coming Young Researcher Award but it was Smith who came out best. ‘The panel as a whole felt that Smith deserved it  because of his passion in empowering the poor and understanding their needs as they see them, not as people anaylse them,’ said Surridge-Talbot.

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