Summa cum laude BSc Mechanical Engineering graduate Mr Bevan Naidoo chose to study at UKZN despite receiving numerous offers from other universities.
‘I knew the University was respected both nationally and internationally for producing quality engineers, and believed the Durban campus would be very convenient for me,’ said Naidoo.
Four years later – his academic journey sponsored by Huawei Technologies (Pty) Ltd who he now works for as a Graduate Network Performance Engineer – he is among the University’s top achievers.
For his final year Mechanical Engineering project, Naidoo joined forces with UKZN’s highly acclaimed Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). ‘My group’s task was to research, design and manufacture a fuel storage and injection system for gelled propellants,’ he said. ‘In other words, we had to create a solution to inject and atomise gel-based fuels at high pressure and speed sufficient for combustion in a rocket propulsion system.
‘To do this, we designed a test rig with a storage chamber, and using a hydraulic actuator and modular injectors, we performed injection tests at varying pressures, speeds and impinging jet angles. Following these results, we could determine the spray characteristics and fuel droplet sizes that are most favourable.’
In addition to being the team leader and directing most of the project, Naidoo focused on designing the injectors.
‘I have always had an interest in engineering and then became fascinated with the way aircraft work, which led to my dream of becoming a pilot. As I grew older, I took a liking to the physical sciences, mathematics and astronomy, with aerospace providing a unique mix,’ he said.
‘Naturally, I am ambitious and always curious about how everything works. That is why choosing an aerospace project provided a balance of engineering, science and astronomy, and fed my curiosity. Ultimately, working on this gelled monopropellant test stand was an exciting journey that brought new and interesting challenges.’
The goal of Naidoo’s very relevant research project was to investigate the prospects of using gelled fuels in propulsion systems, and to prove that combustion of gel or high-viscosity fluids is feasible. ‘At present there is no commercial propulsion system that uses gelled propellants, so our research was unique and we had to be creative because only a few experts around the world have ventured into this domain,’ said Naidoo. ‘Furthermore, using gelled-based fuels is a new idea, therefore, much more development is needed in the field.’
Using gelled fuels comes with many benefits, said Naidoo, including better storage and handling capabilities than its liquid counterparts. ‘The fuels may also provide a leak-free system with improved throttle control, which may prove to be more sustainable than liquid fuels,’ he explained.
‘We know that liquid fuels can atomise easily and at lower speeds, however, gelled fuels are stubborn and require higher pressures to achieve higher speeds.
‘Our solution proved that we can successfully atomise gelled fuels and produce fine droplets as with liquid fuels. So, there is potential to prospect gelled-based fuels, but the choice often comes down to which solution is cheaper.’
‘Apart from my journey with Huawei, I hope to continue my engineering career and work to get my Professional Engineering licence (PrEng) from the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA),’ said Naidoo. A part-time MSc is also possibly on the horizon.
Naidoo thanked his parents, Mr Dhanabalan and Mrs Vanilla Naidoo, and his sister Camille for keeping him focused and on track as well as his good friend Mr Darshan Govender, who graduated alongside him, and his final year project supervisor, Mr Timothy Velthuysen.
‘I am thankful to UKZN for giving me this opportunity and grateful for all the lecturers who dedicated themselves to developing our talents and for sharing their invaluable work experiences.’
Naidoo had this advice for students: ‘You can achieve excellence if you are self-disciplined, dedicated and set yourself goals. Take advice from seniors and lecturers because they were students once.
‘And most importantly, do your tutorials!’
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal