07 November 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Leonie Bolleurs
Discussing progress in green energy and nuclear medicine during the recent ReMec2, were from the left: Dr Dumisani Kama (UFS), Prof Roger Alberto (University of Zurich), Prof Andreas Roodt (UFS), and Dr Orbett Alexander (UFS).

Scientists in South Africa and Switzerland, with a research collaboration of 20 years, are working together to make a difference. A major focus of their work is nuclear medicine and green energy. 

Since the end of October, 22 speakers from five countries met for five days at four different sites in South Africa to discuss their work during the second symposium on reaction mechanisms, better known as ReMec2. The Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS) hosted this event. 

Considerable reduction of carbon dioxide

According to Prof Andreas Roodt, lead researcher from the UFS Department of Chemistry, ReMec2 focused mainly on two projects: nuclear medicine and an R8 million project titled: Solar Light-driven Homogeneous Catalysis for Greener Industrial Processes with H2 (hydrogen gas) as Energy Source and CO2 (carbon dioxide) as C1 Building Block. This is a sunlight-driven project in search of new catalysts, which are chemical compounds that make the reactions faster and more effective, but which are not consumed during the reaction. The aim is to provide greener industrial processes with hydrogen as energy source, and to reduce carbon dioxide in the environment.

This research, if applied, has the probability of preventing the release of more than 100 kg of harmful carbon dioxide for every one kg of hydrogen produced. “Together with the Swiss group, we are at that stage of the research where these compounds, with just one molecule of the catalyst, can make 80 000 hydrogen molecules (very clean energy, as hydrogen in a car's engine burns to clean water; not like gasoline that burns to harmful carbon dioxide),” Prof Roodt explains. 

The UFS and the research group from Prof Robert Alberto at the University of Zurich have been working together on this research for the past twenty years. According to Prof Roodt, they are studying complete reaction mechanisms, including the time profile of how the different chemical compounds are reacting with each other and not just the simple product analysis as studied by most groups in the world. 

International patent on nuclear medicine

In June 2019, they registered an international patent on nuclear medicine model compounds. The patent was granted. During ReMec2, a lecture was presented on this patent, according to which a compound with an imaging isotope [Tc-99m] that has its own ‘X-rays’, can shed light on an affected organ in the human body for doctors to see where medicine should be administered. The same compound also contains the medicine to treat the disease. 

The work of these scientists is 100% in line with South Africa’s National Development Plan and it supports the UFS Strategic Plan. “The programme also builds on students’ research and increases network and collaboration possibilities. We receive more international acknowledgement for our research efforts and compete with the best in the world. Our research is not necessarily about having the best equipment (although it is very important), but critically it is about the generation of innovative ideas,” says Prof Roodt. 

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