By Caroline Chiimba
BEAMING with confidence, Donald Mjonono, a chemical engineering student from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), took to the podium and owned the moment at the NUST Engineering Students Award Competition (NUSTESAC) held at NUST campus in Bulawayo.
The 2016 NUST preliminary competition attracted eight competitors from different engineering disciplines, which saw Mjonono rising up to the occasion and scooping the best engineering award of the year.
“l’m very happy about the outcome of this project and that I managed to pull through despite the financial challenges I met due to shortage of engineering equipment at NUST,” said Mjonono after the competition.
The yearly event was sponsored by Lennard Bread (lnnscor), UNICEF, and Eng. CM. Chivonivoni in a bid to promote and nature young talent.
Mjonono is one of many innovative and creative youths in Zimbabwe whose brilliant ideas might result in a better nation if they are natured, supported and implemented.
However these dreams and ideas might amount to nothing if there is lack of financial assistance.
According to the Eng.Samson Mhlanga who is the chairperson in the Department of industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, students have been coming up with brilliant projects every year, which were good enough to be converted to businesses.
“When l followed up on some of our previous winners, l was disappointed to find out that none of them pursued their projects, but instead they were working for some different organisations,” stressed Eng.Mhlanga.
Recently, the Government has been encouraging the youths to embrace entrepreneurship as a way of eradicating unemployment in the country, but the mystery of who is willing to put in money to set the project in motion is left untold.
“Nowadays it is very difficult to get financial assistance from the government if you don’t own a certain political card that proves that you an active member of that party despite the fact that one has a brilliant innovation,” said one of the audience members who declined to be named.
“There is nothing wrong in belonging to a certain political party, but it is very wrong to let politics hinder the economic progression of the country.”
“I would love to applaud the sponsors of this competition as it has helped to unearth the innovative minds hidden in these youngsters,” said Nomathamsanqa Ndlovu, who was an audience during the presentations. “Even though it’s baby steps, at least someone did something to promote entrepreneurship in young minds.”
Mjonono’s project focused on utilising the Zimbabwean fly ash which presently constitutes a huge disposal problem in the country.
“Softening water is an essential utility for the power generation, leather processing, food and beverage processing industries,” said Mjonono.
“These companies currently rely on imported synthetic resins and acid based regenerates for the boiler feed water softening process, which proves to be costly for the local industrial sector against the backdrop of high operating expenses.”
As a measure to foster value addition and beneficiation, Mjonono designed a 240m3 per day softening and de-alkalisation plant using zeolites, a chemical synthesised from Zimbabwean fly ash.
The economic evaluation of his project indicated an internal rate of return of 0,24 percent and payback period of 2years.
“Lots of money can be saved, and the importation rate of synthetic resins will also decrease,” said Mjonono. “Utilising the natural resource that is readily available like the fly ash would play the trick.”
“l hope the investors and local industrial sector will see the goodness of the project and will be willing to buy the idea,” concluded Mjonono.
Chengeto Zvavamwe was one of the female students in the department of chemical engineering, who also battled it out in this competition and managed to scoop the second best award.
Zvawamwe proposed the extraction of natural dye from the Eucalyptus plant found in abundance in the city of Mutare situated in Manicaland, Zimbabwe.
“Currently over 732tons of synthetic dyes are produced globally each year and are used in colouring of different material including food media,” said Zvavamwe during her presentation. “However, natural dyes derived from plant and animal sources are an eco-friendly substitute to synthetic dyes.”
Over 31000 hectares of Zimbabwean land is covered in Eucalyptus plantations, mainly the Eucalyptus grandis.
“Dye extracted from eucalyptus grandis is healthier than synthetic dyes which poses health risks like cancer,” emphasised Zvavamwe. “This project can create employment and it is also marketable.”
The closing remarks of Dr Eli Mtetwa, Director of the NUST Technopak organisation, championed unity among different faculties on campus and for people to develop a spirit of working together and desist from spreading negativity.
“l’m very hopeful that this year’s contestants won’t end here, they will pursue and make something out of these projects,” said Eng.Mhlanga, with a broad smile.
The victorious Mjonono along with runner up Zvavamwe are set to represent the University at the upcoming National Engineering Students Awards Competition which will be held at Chinhoyi University of Technology this year.