Merah Mas CEO, Bernelle Verster, is currently doing her PhD on Biotech in Sanitation, at CeBER. The Centre is gratefully acknowledged for funding, mentoring and general support. In particular, Dr Sue Harrison have been invaluable in her guidance, leadership, and tolerance of a very wayward student.


The following information is taken from the CeBER website, but may get out of date, please visit their website for most up to date info.

The Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research (CeBER)



CeBER strives to equip scientists at the postgraduate level with expertise that will allow them to excel in every sector of the bioprocess arena, from research to industry. CeBER aims to provide South Africa with an advancing knowledge of bioprocess engineering that is relevant and excellent, through contract research and a multi-disciplinary approach to its transfer and application.


The Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research at UCT aims to realise the following objectives:

  • The education of scientists at the postgraduate level with key expertise to excel in careers in the bioprocess arena, both in research and in the industry,
  • The provision of research expertise in key aspects of bioprocess engineering relevant to South Africa through contract research,
  • The contribution to fundamental insights in bioprocess engineering and related processes, and
  • The transfer and application of knowledge across disciplines in which bioprocesses play a role

The research activities of CeBER are contained in five main research foci:

  • Minerals bioprocessing
  • Alkane biotechnology
  • Bioproducts from Renewable Resources
  • Microbial Product Recovery
  • Sustainability of and through Bioprocesses

CeBER is home to six academic staff, some four to eight postdoctoral fellows and some 35 postgraduate students. The Unit maintains a diversity of disciplines across its researchers and collaborators to nurture a cross-disciplinary approach to research.

Minerals Bioprocessing Research Group

CeBER has developed a strong focus in mineral bioleaching of sulphidic ores and concentrates using both tank and heap bioleach systems. Our research is focused at the level of the sub-processes occurring within the bioleaching process, including microbial ferrous iron oxidation and its kinetics, bacterial sulfur / sulfide oxidation, chemical ferric leaching of the sulfide mineral, macro- and micro-transport, microbial association with the mineral and microbial dynamics within the process. Both mesophilic bacterial and thermophilic archael systems are studied. Further, the process stresses introduced into both industrial heap and tank leaching environments through physical and solute conditions are studied. The research is integrated through modeling of bioleach processes. A comprehensive modeling tool, HeapSim, has been developed in collaboration with Prof Dave Dixon at UBC, Canada for heap leaching processes and undergoes continual extension. A population balance modeling approach is taken for the tank leaching process.

In addition, we focus on acid mine drainage or AMD. Biological sulfate reduction provides an approach to the treatment of these highly acidic sulfate and metal-rich streams emanating from mining operations and wastes. Our studies focus on the combined understanding of the kinetics of biological sulfate reduction and microbial population dynamics in such treatment. We are currently initiating research into the prevention of AMD formation, through integrating our knowledge across these sections.

Key members of the research team are Dr Jochen Petersen, Dr Rob van Hille, Dr Randhir Rawatlal, Professor Sue Harrison and Dr Sanet Minnaar.

Alkane Biotechnology Research Group

The availability of linear alkanes as a feedstock is increasing with increasing application of gas-to-liquid fuel technology. To improve resource productivity, it is desirable to convert these to value added products; however they are largely inert and most products are characterized by greater reactivity than the starting material. As a part of the Paraffins programme within the DST-NRF Centre for Excellence in Catalysis, c*change, we are studying the bioconversion of linear alkanes to activate the hydrocarbon backbone. Potential end products include the alcohols, carboxylic acids, hydroxyacids and dioic acids. Potential exists for further metabolism to biopolymers and a range of other bioproducts. The research is carried out in collaboration with Prof Martie Smit at the University of the Free State where engineering of the microbial strain and enzyme modeling is conducted, and Dr Kim Clarke at Stellenbosch University. At UCT, Dr Randhir Rawatlal and Prof Sue Harrison study the process challenges, metabolic engineering and kinetics.

Bioproducts from Renewable Resources

CeBER has a strong history in research into the production of both fine chemicals and commodity bioproducts through bringing together research into process kinetics, metabolic modeling, product optimisation and induction. Systems studied previously range from the amino acid lysine through a yeast biocontrol agent and bioplastics to bioethanol. Our current focus is centred on the production of commodity bioproducts from renewable resources, including approaches to enhance bioresource productivity. We are investigating potential of biofuels and bioplastics. Further we plan to extend our focus on algae for carotenoid production to consider potential for its use in commodity bioproduct production.

Microbial Product Recovery

Following substantial research of Prof Sue Harrison and her group into microbial cell disruption for product release and novel application of solid-liquid separations, CeBER is focused on novel approaches to selective product release and to minimizing energy dissipation accompanying microbial cell disruption. We study the interaction between unit operations in the downstream train with the aim to achieve integrated optimisation. Further, we are interested in unit operations that achieve multiple recovery and purification objectives in a single step.

Sustainability of and through Bioprocesses

Holistically, assessment of process sustainability and its optimisation must inform all studies. Tools are developed to facilitate the quantification of parameters of importance in analysis of the sustainability of specific bioprocesses, thereby allowing its wide-spread consideration. An assessment framework for bioprocess sustainability has been developed and applied to biodiesel to compare enzymic and alkali catalytic production routes and to assess the bioplastic PHB vs polyolefins. A software tool is under development to enable rapid assessment of bioprocesses. In addition, review of the new wastewater treatment plant at a local brewery using LCA has highlighted targets for reduced environmental impact. Currently, energy capture and integration into the brewing process from the methane generated is analysed. Our current focus is strongly linked to commodity bioproducts from renewable resources.