Biore­fin­ery to boost com­pet­i­tive­ness

Vuk'uzenzele - - Yoguetnhefroaclus - Hlengiwe Ngob­ese

THE SOUTH AFRICAN gov­ern­ment has launched a R37.5 mil­lion biore­fin­ery fa­cil­ity in Dur­ban, which is set to ex­tract max­i­mum value from biomass waste.

The Biore­fin­ery In­dus­try De­vel­op­ment Fa­cil­ity (BIDF), which is a first for South Africa, will sup­port in­no­va­tion in forestry, agro pro­cess­ing and other biomass-based in­dus­tries.

It was launched by the Min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, at the Coun­cil for Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search’s (CSIR) Dur­ban cam­pus re­cently.

The fa­cil­ity will ini­tially fo­cus on the forestry sec­tor, which is un­der global fi­nan­cial strain, and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions have been ear­marked to help pre­vent job losses and en­able sec­tor growth.

Biore­fin­ery in South Africa’s pulp and pa­per in­dus­try is lim­ited, with wood, pulp and pa­per waste end­ing up in land­fill sites or be­ing burnt, stock­piled or pumped out to sea. The po­ten­tial to ex­tract value is not re­alised, which means lost op­por­tu­ni­ties for the coun­try’s econ­omy. For ex­am­ple, high-value spe­cial­ity chem­i­cals can be ex­tracted from sawmill and dust shav­ings and mill sludge can be con­verted into nanocrys­talline cel­lu­lose, biopoly­mers and bio­gas.

Speak­ing at the launch, Min­is­ter Kubayi-Ngubane said that a min­is­te­rial re­view re­port has high­lighted sev­eral chal­lenges that im­pede the growth and strength­en­ing of the coun­try’s na­tional sys­tem of in­no­va­tion, in­clud­ing the low level of in­vest­ment by the pri­vate sec­tor into re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

“A key rec­om­men­da­tion from the re­port is for gov­ern­ment to put ef­fec­tive mea­sures and mech­a­nisms in place to at­tract the pri­vate sec­tor to in­vest in re­search and de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion (RDI).

“A key long-term out­comes mea­sure would be in­creased sec­tor con­tri­bu­tion to the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct through stronger RDI-based in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment,” the Min­is­ter said.

The Min­is­ter ex­plained that the BIDF is a good ex­am­ple of strate­gic sup­port from gov­ern­ment to a sci­ence coun­cil that has the po­ten­tial to lead to long-term sus­tain­able pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ships. Part­ner­ships that have the po­ten­tial to make a fun­da­men­tal con­tri­bu­tion to ad­dress­ing the triple chal­lenge of poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment.

The BIDF will en­able cut­ting-edge re­search de­vel­op­ment and demon­stra­tion biore­fin­ery ini­tia­tives for lig­no­cel­lu­losic biomass waste to pro­duce valu­able prod­ucts. It will also en­able the up-scal­ing, pi­lot­ing and demon­stra­tion of biore­fin­ery tech­nolo­gies; pro­mote in­ter- and multi- dis­ci­plinary re­search co­op­er­a­tion amongst key play­ers; fa­cil­i­tate the train­ing of skilled re­searchers and en­gi­neers in the biore­fin­ery field; and in­te­grate and ac­ti­vate ru­ral-based biore­fin­ery fa­cil­i­ties. This will en­able farm­ers and grass­roots com­mu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in and ben­e­fit from the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the bio-econ­omy strat­egy, through biomass sup­ply, tech­nol­ogy lo­cal­i­sa­tion and demon­stra­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Biore­fin­ery pro­grammes that have been iden­ti­fied for South Africa in­clude forestry, sugar, green waste and al­gae.

Sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments are be­ing made to de­velop the hu­man cap­i­tal re­quired to sup­port the sec­tor. The CSIR has part­nered with the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Natal to de­velop the re­quired skills and ex­per­tise that will en­able and pro­mote biore­fin­ery tech­nolo­gies in South Africa.

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