South Africa, through the country’s government, has launched a $3 million (R37.5 million) biorefinery facility in Durban. The facility, a first for South Africa, will be used to extract value from biomass waste. and support innovation in a range of industries, including forestry, agro processing and other biomass-based industries.
In attendance at the launch was Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, who unveiled and announced the Biorefinery Industry Development Facility (BIDF) at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) campus in Durban on 20 March 2018.
“A key recommendation of the report was for government to put in place effective measures and mechanisms to attract the private sector to invest in R&D and innovation,” said the Minister.
The initial focus of the BIDF will be the forestry sector, according to the CSIR. The sector is reported to be under financial strain globally and as such, technology innovations have been earmarked to help prevent job losses and enable growth in the forestry sector.
Biorefinery in South Africa’s pulp and paper industry is practiced on a very limited scale. Wood, pulp and paper waste ends up in landfill sites or is burnt, stockpiled or even pumped out to sea. The potential to extract value from it, is not realised, which means lost opportunities for the country’s economy. Additionally, the Southern Afrikan country is running out of landfill space. High-value speciality chemicals can be extracted from sawmill and dust shavings, while mill sludge can be converted into nanocrystalline cellulose, biopolymers and biogas.
“A key long-term outcomes measure would be increased sector contribution to the GDP through stronger RDI-based industrial development,” said the Minister; adding that the IIP should support initiatives, such as satellite development and manufacturing and titanium powder development, among others," added the Minister.
Talking about the need for science to support industrial development, CSIR CEO, Dr Thulani Dlamini said making South Africa more competitive was at the heart of the CSIR.
“Our mandate requires us to use science and technology to contribute to scientific and industrial development, which will improve the competitiveness of the South African industry and also create new industries. The CSIR is using innovation to contribute to economic growth and thus assisting in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment,” concluded Dr Dlamini.