About me – Philip de Vaal

I am a full professor of chemical engineering at the University of Pretoria, and am a guest professor in the Future Energy Center at MDH. I specialise in process modelling and control, and have been teaching courses in process dynamics and in process control at undergraduate and postgraduate level since 1980. My specific interest is in modelling and control of large, ill-defined and difficult to monitor nonlinear systems with varying dynamics, such as found in the paper and pulp, minerals processing and petrochemical industries. A special parallel focus is on laboratory evaluation of lubricant performance and the effects this has on energy consumption in large industrial processes. A total of 37 master's degrees and three PhD's have been awarded under my supervision.

My educational and professional background

I graduated from the Department of chemical engineering, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1976, followed by a master’s (1980) and a PhD (1990) from the same institution. After some years in industry, I joined the staff of the same department in 1980 as a senior lecturer. 

My research intrerest

I established a laboratory for advanced process control in the Department of chemical engineering in 1987. The apparatus in the laboratory represent unique measuring and control phenomena like interactivity, nonlinearity and dead-time. To date, more than 100 candidates have completed the postgraduate specialisation programme in control engineering, BEng(Hons)(Control Engineering), which I developed. Research focus is concerned with relating process modelling and control to plant-wide performance. In 1990 I also established a tribology laboratory where specific research is conducted on laboratory evaluation of lubricant performance. A special interest is modelling of tribological systems and the effect of lubricants on energy reduction in industrial processes.

Awards and distinctions

  • 2012: SAIT Best technical achievement award 2012 (with LF Barker)
  • 2002: Wilbur Deutsch memorial award of the Society of tribologists and lubrication engineers (STLE)
  • 1995: Merit award of the South-African Institute of tribology (SAIT) for special contributions to the development of Tribology in South-Africa, March 31st 1995.
  • 1991: Louw Alberts-award  of the SAIT  for exceptional contribution to the South African industry by establishing and running an independent facility for testing of lubricants.

Professional activities

  • Member of SAIChE/IChemE (1977–present); fellow since 2007.
  • Registered professional engineer (Pr.Eng)  – Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
  • Member of the South African Institute of Tribology (SAIT) since 1987. Member of the Executive Committee (1990–2004). President of the SAIT (1992–1994).
  • Society for Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) (1996–present): member.
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) (1986–2000): member.
  • International Tribology Council (ITC): (1994–present): member and South-African representative.
  • Member of the Engineering programme accreditation committee (EPAC) of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) since 2013, member of seven accreditation panels, team leader of two. 
  • Internal panel member for external evaluations of the Departments of chemistry, (2006, 2011), food science (2007) and geology, geography and geo-informatics (2018) at the University of Pretoria in the Faculty of natural and agricultural sciences (NAS).
  • Chairman of the organising committee of the International tribology conferences organised by the South African Institute of Tribology (SAIT) from 1992 until 2015. 
  • Sponsored research: Sasol, Eskom, Amplats, John Deere, Alpret Controls, THRIP (Total ±R9M)
  • Reviewer for the following journals:
    • ASME Journal of Engineering in Medicine
    • Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering
    • Cellulose
    • Control Engineering Practice
    • Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research
    • R&D Journal of the SA Institiute of Mechanical Engineers
    • SA Journal of Chemical Engineering
    • South-African Journal of Industrial Engineering
    • Transactions of the SAIEE
  • I am the author of 29 peer-reviewed journal articles and 81 peer-reviewed papers presented at international and local conferences. 

Committee activities

  • Chair: panel five (Future Energy Center) of six panels of the MER14 project to assess the research outputs of Mälardalen University in Sweden as part of their preparations for National Accreditation (2014).
  • Member: one of five members forming the International advisory board of the Future Energy Center of Mälardalen University, Sweden (2015, 2016, 2017).
  • External examiner:
    • Undergraduate courses in process dynamics and control for: Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, North-West University, Technikon Witwatersrand.
    • Masters dissertations (13) & PhD Theses (2): Stellenbosch University, University of Kwazulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, Technikon Witwatersrand.