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Picture caption:  From left to right: Veronique Haller (Embassy of Switzerland), Mmantsae M. Diale (U Pretoria), Daan Du Toit (DSI of South Africa), Artur Braun (Empa)

On July 30, 2019 the SUNRISE project was presented by the SUNRISE partner Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa)’s Dr. Artur Braun at the University of Pretoria (UP), which is a SUNRISE’s supporter in South Africa (SA). The event was jointly organized by UP and the Embassy of Switzerland in the African country.

The Swiss South African Joint Research Program had recently funded a research project on the conversion of CO2 and water to solar fuels, with project partners from Empa, the University of Basel in Switzerland, UP and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in SA.

The ceremony was opened by Mmantsae M. Diale, newly appointed Research Chair in Clean and Green Energy by the National Research Foundation (NRF) at UP. Prof. Diale felt that SUNRISE would not have only the goal for a circular economy, but also for a secular economy, with energy for everybody.

Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal of UP, gave an introductory address and emphasized the importance of research and education for the positioning of the universities of SA in a future renewable energy economy.

Daan Du Toit, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation and Resources at the South Africa Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). He reassured the full commitment and support of the DSI to the South African researchers and innovators. He also highlighted the need to establish cooperation with European partners under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, as part of the Strategic Partnership in science, technology and innovation between SA and the EU.

For Professor Egmont Rohwer, former Head of the UP Chemistry Department, a dream had come true with the advent of the Swiss South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) project on CO2 conversion at UP several years ago. Prof. Rohwer stressed the importance of a green and renewable economy for SA, particularly as the African country does not depend on existing energy networks and thus is well prepared for the decentralized philosophy of SUNRISE. Moreover, he estimated that SA could become an exporting country for solar fuels. Prof. Rohwer’s dream continues, as UP is a SUNRISE’s supporter.

Dr. Artur Braun then delivered a talk on the transition from natural photosynthesis to artificial photosynthesis, including the physics and chemistry of photoelectrochemical cells for solar hydrogen and fuel production, and his own experience with hydrogen fuel cell electromobility across Europe. Along with highlights from the past SSAJRP project, this provided the basis for the introduction to the goals of the SUNRISE project: a EU Horizon 2020 initiative open to partners worldwide.

The SUNRISE event was concluded by remarks of Veronique Haller, Deputy Head of the Embassy of Switzerland to South Africa (Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritius and Namibia), who emphasized the importance of Science Diplomacy for the promotion, establishing and continuation of scientific collaboration across borders.

The presentation was followed by questions and discussions from the audience, which included students from various disciplines, not only the natural sciences but also civil engineering and humanities, as well as staff from the UP and the Swiss Mission in South Africa.

Discussions after the event

Impressions after the event