The South African government on Tuesday launched a R37.5 million biorefinery facility in Durban that is set to extract maximum value from biomass waste.
The facility, which is a first for South Africa, will support innovation in a range of industries, including forestry, agro processing and other biomass-based industries.
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, the minister of science and technology, launched the Biorefinery Industry Development Facility (BIDF) at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) campus in Durban.
The initial focus of the BIDF is the forestry sector, which is under financial strain globally. Biorefinery in South Africa’s pulp and paper industry is practised 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.
According to Kubayi, the potential to extract value from it, is not realised, which means lost opportunities for the country’s economy, esecially that the 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.
Kubayi-Ngubane said a ministerial review report highlighted several challenges that impeded the growth and strengthening of the country’s national system of innovation, one of which was low levels of investments in research and development by the private sector.
“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 research and development and innovation,” Kubayi said.
“A key long-term outcomes measure would be increased sector contribution to the GDP through stronger RDI-based industrial development.”
CSIR chief executive, 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,” Dlamini said.
“The CSIR is using innovation to contribute to economic growth and thus assisting in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.”