School of Engineering


Chemical Engineering Professor Wins International Recognition

Associate Professor and Academic Leader in Chemical Engineering David Lokhat is earning plaudits for his research and the work he oversees in the Reactor Technology Research Group.

In the space of months, the Group was highly commended at the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) 2022 Global Awards, while Lokhat was inducted as a new Affiliate of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and named among the 20 most influential researchers in chemical and engineering research in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa by the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research (I&EC Research) journal.

In the IChemE Awards, the Reactor Technology Research Group received a Highly Commended Award in the research project category for work addressing the lack of access to clean drinking water in the developing world. Lokhat and colleagues used plant-based coagulating materials, a growing focus of interest as a sustainable and environmentally harmless water treatment method. They bound these plant-based materials to a simple granular support to create an effective solid platform for decentralised water treatment.

Lokhat explained that they used molecular dynamics simulations to study interactions between contaminants and extracted proteins before experimental validation of the hetero coagulants.

The Reactor Technology Research Group investigates technologies that replace large, expensive energy-intensive equipment or processes with smaller, less costly, and more efficient ones. They focus on the production of advanced materials for application in intensified chemical reactors and separators. Being placed in the top tier of the world’s most prestigious chemical engineering awards provided recognition for the Group’s efforts to make a tangible impact on society through sustainable engineering.

Lokhat was then inducted as a new Affiliate of the AAS at the Academy’s Annual General Meeting, along with Professor Tricia Naicker of UKZN’s College of Health Sciences. Following a rigorous review of over 250 nominations, Lokhat was one of only 47 scientists in Africa to join the seventh cohort of AAS Affiliates, honouring his excellent achievements in the field of engineering technology and applied sciences.

Inclusion as an AAS Affiliate for a five-year term will enhance Lokhat’s efforts to develop as a research leader in his field by providing support in the form of recognition in AAS channels, individualised professional planning support, enrolment in the AAS mentorship scheme, and access to career development activities and networking and collaboration opportunities.

Lokhat has also been named in the sixth annual class of the 20 most influential researchers at the forefront of chemical and engineering research by I&EC Research, the largest and most-cited general chemical engineering research journal in the world that has been at the forefront of chemical engineering research since 1909. He joined scientists from the European, African and Middle Eastern regions who have distinguished themselves in the first decade of their independent careers. The only researcher at a South African institution among those recognised in 12 countries, Lokhat’s mention on this esteemed list highlights his research and expertise to others in his field.

As part of his inclusion as one of the top 20 influential researchers in chemical and engineering research, Lokhat published an invited article titled Synthesis of Size-and-Shape-Controlled Iron Oxide Nanoparticles via Coprecipitation and In Situ Magnetic Separation in I&EC Research’s virtual special issue.

Lokhat has focused his research on catalysis and chemical reaction engineering, specifically process intensification in reactor technology, with a focus on the development and application of advanced materials for more efficient and environmentally benign reactions and separation systems. He has expertise in high-pressure hydrothermal liquefaction and supercritical oxidation systems as well as the development of bio-based sorbents for water remediation.

An alumnus of UKZN, Lokhat completed his master’s degree cum laude and received awards for work done and patented during his PhD. A member of staff since 2013, he is an associate member of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre, and during his career has received accolades including the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) Innovation Award and a Royal Academy of Engineering Leader in Innovation Fellowship. He is a member of the South African Young Academy of Science and a rated scientist with the National Research Foundation.

He is also president of SAIChE, and an editor for the South African Journal of Chemical Engineering.

At UKZN, Lokhat has been among the Top 10 young published researchers and received the College of Agriculture Engineering and Science Distinguished Teacher Award, and the University’s prestigious Distinguished Teachers’ Award.

He has supervised nine doctoral students and 26 master’s degree students to graduation, and has 63 journal papers, 14 peer-reviewed conference papers and 11 book chapters to his name, in addition to having edited a book.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph and image: Supplied and Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research