Systems optimization for sustainable resources utilization in Africa

In order to promote social and economic development in Africa and to contribute to a sustainable and secure supply of water, energy and agri-foods for the people, scientists in Germany and Rwanda are jointly researching the optimization of processes and systems for a sustainable resources utilization. This is made possible by a university cooperation between Technische Universität Ilmenau and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Rwanda, which is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for a research chair and four postdoctoral and doctoral fellowships: Ilmenau researcher Dr. Abebe Geletu has held the German Research Chair for Mathematics and its Application at AIMS Rwanda since summer 2021. On May 1, 2022, the first fellows could now also start their research activities in Kigali and Ilmenau.

AIMS Rwanda
Prof. Abebe Geletu is aiming at building up research capacities in process optimization at AIMS Rwanda

"Previous research on optimizing processes in water distribution and energy systems has mainly been based on European standards and conditions so far", explains Prof. Pu Li, who, as head of the Process Optimization Group at TU Ilmenau, is leading the research cooperation on the German side: "The results of this reesearch are therefore only partially applicable to countries and regions outside Europe." In the countries of the South, however, functioning systems are especially important for supplying people with water, food and energy, as his colleague Abebe Geletu knows from personal experience in his home country of Ethiopia: The rural population in particular is affected by drought, resource scarcity, poverty and hunger - not least due to advancing climate change and the increase in extreme weather conditions. "This is a disaster," Prof. Geletu says.

Ever since the beginning of his doctorate in deterministic optimization in 1999 at the TU Ilmenau, Dr. Geletu has therefore been passionate about optimizing the distribution of food, water and energy through applied mathematics. Along the way, the scientist has been able to further expand his expertise through his lead collaboration on projects of the German Research Foundation on the optimization and operation of complex systems using stochastic programming. In 2018 he completed his habilitation in stochastic optimization. Since then, his research and teaching focus has also included control engineering, artificial intelligence (AI) and Data-driven approaches for complex problems. He now wants to apply and further develop this expertise in optimization at AIMS, because he is convinced:

Optimizing systems will make a crucial contribution to modernizing and technologizing Africa.

Smart systems for renewable energy, water distribution networks and sustainable supply chains

Together with Professor Pu Li, the optimization expert has now set himself the goal of building up research capacities in the field of process optimization at AIMS Rwanda and promoting the cross-national transfer of knowledge in this subfield of applied mathematics through joint research and teaching. The institute in Kigali is one of currently seven centers of excellence for postgraduate education, research and extension in mathematics and related sciences in Africa. Familiarizing young scientists on site with the application possibilities of mathematical optimization, "which may seem theoretical at first glance," for solving economic and social problems is therefore one of Prof. Geletu's main concerns.

The focus of the scientist's work is on mathematical approaches to the optimization and control of intelligent systems for renewable energy, water distribution networks and sustainable supply chains in the agri-food industry, especially in remote areas without grid connection. The many years of experience of the AIMS Rwanda Chair holder at TU Ilmenau and the expertise of the Process Optimization Group, where corresponding optimization approaches have already been developed and applied in various industrial processes, form an excellent basis for this. In addition, Prof. Geletu's close ties to Ilmenau and Ethiopia, where he teaches as a visiting professor at Haramaya University and Addis Ababa University, mean that he is not only well connected internationally. To bring his expertise into practical application, he will also work closely with local and regional universities and engineers from African industry.

Prof. Pu Li is convinced that the four PhD students and postdocs who started work at AIMS in Rwanda in May 2022 will benefit from parallel training in Kigali and Ilmenau as well as from modern research approaches on both sides:

From a total of 47 applications, we were able to select three male and one female scholarship holder in spring, who will now begin their project with great motivation.

The young scientists are based at the AIMS center in Kigali, but will also come to Ilmenau for research stays and are jointly supervised by the TU Ilmenau and AIMS Rwanda. Their work will focus primarily on developing advanced methods and cutting-edge technologies for optimal use of microgrids for sustainable energy generation and distribution and intelligent control and monitoring of water distribution networks.

At the same time, the research stays of the scientists in Germany and Rwanda will serve to establish international contacts, get to know different cultures and attend courses in both countries, according to Prof. Li:

Research thrives on exchange and dialogue. The cross-national academic exchange will lay the foundation for multidisciplinary and diverse research contributions from different cultural, personal and economic backgrounds that will produce modern approaches to better understand the social and infrastructural problems in Africa and contribute to a sustainable, high-quality, safe and cost-effective supply of vital resources to the people.

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