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Zimbabwe may start commercial production of lithium batteries for passenger vehicles next year following headway by the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) which has already purified lithium phosphate and manufactured protype cells.
The country has some of the world’s largest reserves of hard-rock lithium, a vital mineral in the production of clean energy technologies.
As Education 5.0 continues to bear fruit, students are now being taught to look for solutions inwardly with several innovations being witnessed under the Second Republic.
While President Mnangagwa was capping 639 students at HIT’s 14th graduation ceremony yesterday, HIT Vice Chancellor Dr Quinton Kanhukamwe said the university had made significant progress in lithium battery production.
Among the 639 capped, 38,8 percent were females, while 48 students attained first class degree passes.
Dr Kanhukamwe said the university developed lithium carbonate from 2020 to 2022 however, there was a need to further beneficiate the battery-grade lithium carbonate to produce lithium phosphate which has improved chemical characteristics for battery production.
The Vice Chancellor said his team had managed to produce the required enhanced battery-grade lithium phosphate.
“As a result, your university has been successful in developing a lithium phosphate 3.2V, 60Ah battery cell, when coupled in either parallel for more voltage or series for enhanced current, the cells will produce sufficient power to drive passenger vehicles.
“Our vision is to start commercial production of lithium batteries for vehicles in 2024,” he said.
Dr Kanhukamwe said the university was churning 639 engineering and technology graduates with a deep sense of mission accomplishment and equipped with the most refined technopreneurial skills and gutsy dare devil-mentality.
“They are the embodiment of Heritage-based Education 5.0, as they are armed with the requisite skills and stamina to set up hi-tech enterprises. Your Excellency and Chancellor, as to the University’s outlook for the future, we expect to accelerate and consolidate the execution of the HIT mandate.
“We will continue to provide a superlative education and continue to be trailblazers in key research areas of our mandate. We will reinforce the development of a research enterprise that is pushing outward the boundaries of knowledge so that we educate talented students at the leading edge of their fields who can meaningfully contribute to the rapid industrialisation and modernisation of this country”
Apart from the lithium battery breakthrough, said Dr Kanhukamwe, several innovations are being witnessed across all sectors of the economy including agriculture which is the backbone of the nation.
“HIT is working with Kosygin Russian State University and local sister universities to develop mechanisms for improving cotton output. Currently, our national output is at a mere 700kg per hectare as compared to Russia’s and India’s 900kg to 1 100kg per hectare.
“Through our Biotechnology Department, we are currently seized with cotton seed development and improvement. The envisaged outcomes will be an increase in income for the farmers and subsequently forex from exports,” he said.
Dr Kanhukwamwe said other gains to be realised are drops in cooking oil prices, clothes, and animal feed.
The vice chancellor said while new developments are coming on board, the university is also enjoying the fruits of already established innovations.
“The university continues to design and manufacture oil and dry power distribution transformers at our plant in Chitungwiza.
“The transformers are being sold commercially,” he said
The university, he added, has also launched three spin-off companies at a time the existing start-up and spin-off are now employing 179 people in their entities.
Among them InstiBio, a spin-off from the department of Biotechnology that brings industrial biotechnology, medical biotechnology and advanced mushroom technologies to the nation to improve food security through agriculture and horticultural solutions, as well as the health sector through medications.
The other company is InstiRad, a spin-off from the department of Radiography, specialising in bringing up accessible and affordable radiography services to disadvantaged and under-resourced communities in Zimbabwe.
HIT is also currently working with Norton Town Council and Norton Hospital in availing various ultrasound services, therefore working towards uplifting and boosting health service provision.
Dr Kanhukamwe said the third company is InstiQuip, a spin-off of their school of Engineering and Technology section, which provides machine design expertise, mould design and technology expertise and CAD & CIM technologies for the reverse engineering of advanced machine technologies.
He said this is increasing the viability of import substitution and the development of equipment suited and maintainable for Zimbabwean circumstances.
Dr Kanhukamwe said HIT’s research collaborations have increased significantly through partnership with Chinese, Russian, American, Indonesian and Belarussian universities to improve the quality of research and innovation outputs.
“Your university is part of the Russia-Africa University network where we have secured over six partnerships and we are currently carrying out close to fifteen research activities in the fields of machine design, mechatronics, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
“We have also established a training collaboration with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health where we have enrolled students in the School of Allied Health Sciences Radiography and Ultrasound degree programmes,” he said.