Ralph Muvhiiwa: Meet Unisa Researcher Who Generates Power Using Cow Dung


While a thousand other South Africans continue to pay their electricity bill through their nostrils, a young black Unisa researcher Ralph Muvhiiwa devised a better option through cow dung.

Muvhiiwa who explained the methods involved in turning cow dung into renewable energy, biogas said that dung as renewable energy is much cheaper compared to traditional energies used to heat water or cook.

This formed part of  Muvhiiwa’s projects submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of Master of Science.  He is a member of Unisa’s Engineers Without Borders.

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Giving reasons why biogas should serve as a good alternative to the other source of power supply, Muvhiiwa wrote: “Biogas can provide an answer to many of the hardships experienced by the rural people. For many of those who live in the urban areas, life without electricity is unimaginable, because almost every aspect of our way of life depends on it.

A biodigester is like a mechanical stomach that is fed organic material, which when broken down by micro-organisms becomes an oxygen-free (anaerobic) environment to produce a renewable energy called biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) and other material that is mainly used as fertiliser.

Ralph Muvhiiwa and his fellow members have been working on the project, converting cow dung into clean, affordable biogas for household cooking, heating and lighting using a biodigester.

Their first biodigester was commissioned at a home of a Muldersdrift sweet-potato farmer in 2015 while the second is now being used at Lenasia as part of a Unisa/Medical Research Council project to showcase the benefits of clean fuels for use in energy-poor communities.

Acknowledging his effort in making an impact to his environment,  academic writer Clairwyn van der Merwe, who profiled Muvhiiwa described him as one of the new generation of researchers who are making their presence felt at Unisa and across the continent.

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Van der Merwe said Ralph Muvhiiwa was setting the pace in research with a positive impact on society and publishing his findings in accredited journals that the best scholars in their fields read.