Supporting industry with specialised infrastructure and skills
The CSIR is helping local industry improve its competitiveness by providing access to specialised facilities and skills as part of the Industry Innovation Partnership Fund, supported by the Department of Science and Technology. Participants have access to large-scale prototyping and pre-commercial manufacturing infrastructure, equipment, expertise and access to business and technical networks.
The challenge: Translating concept technologies to competitive products and new enterprises
The South African manufacturing industry creates jobs and drives economic growth in the country, but faces development challenges in the competitive and knowledge-intensive global market.
Challenges include a skills deficit and limited access to sophisticated infrastructure, especially for smaller enterprises.
Launching a biomanufacturing industry development centre
Despite excellent biosciences research and development in South Africa, the conversion of outputs into commercialised products and technologies has been limited. In response to this challenge, the
CSIR established the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC), which was officially launched by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, in 2016.
The BIDC provides laboratory and pilot-scale infrastructure and skills to catalyse the growth of natural products and the biomanufacturing industry.
To date it has supported 23 small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), of which 78% are black-owned. The support has led to the creation of 177 permanent and 201 temporary jobs, with a further 73 graduates trained in relevant industrial skills through an internship programme. With the transfer of 79 new products into the market, it is projected that the CSIR’s initial support will lead to an estimated R250 million contribution to the bioeconomy sector.
The BIDC has also supported established companies with product and process development, including BioDx, NemaBio, Chemical Process Technologies, Teubes, Puris Natural Aromas, BGM Pharmaceuticals, Onderstepoort Biological Products and Agchem.
Establishing a photonics prototyping facility
Photonics is a research field that aims to generate, manipulate and detect particles of light. It is an essential component of everyday technologies in lighting sources such as lasers and light-emitting diodes, telecommunications and information processing, and medical instruments. Currently, South Africa has a very small market share of the global photonics industry due to a lack of infrastructure and skills to industrialise new technology.
The Photonics Prototyping Facility at the CSIR provides skills in optical engineering, industrial design, product integration and facilities such as equipment and clean room space to support prototype development.
The new facility has to date been used to support work on a CSIR-developed new-generation fingerprinting sensing technology using high-speed, large-volume optical coherence tomography. The technology makes it possible to acquire latent fingerprints without destroying potential useful DNA material for forensics. The facility provides access to optical design, assembly and software development to advance the technology to a portable device. The technology has been tested in a local mortuary for the extraction of fingerprints of various states of decomposing human tissue and a contract for commercialisation is in the pipeline. In addition, commercial and partnership opportunities are being explored.
Biorefinery: More competitive pulp and paper mills
The CSIR collaborates with industry, universities and other research and technology organisations to develop and test biorefinery technologies that are used to convert biomass into chemicals, biomaterials and fuels; this is in addition to traditional wood, pulp and paper products. A new facility with cutting-edge analytical and pilot-scale equipment for biorefinery technology development is set to become functional in 2017.
Currently, forest processing industries are inefficient and extract only about 47% of value from trees, with the rest being lost as waste such as sawdust and mill sludge. The biorefinery programme is developing new value chains from the waste to produce high-value products such as xylitol (a low-calorie sweetener) and nanocrystalline cellulose. This will enable increased extraction of value from trees and reduce or eliminate waste production.
The CSIR was contracted by an industrial client to develop technologies for improving industrial competitiveness. In one project, CSIR research ascertained that the presence of fines material (very small fibre particles) in pulps affects the final product quality, causes operational problems and leads to increased consumption of expensive bleaching chemicals. The CSIR developed a technology for removing the fines material and indications are that this technology will save the industry about 50% of bleaching costs per annum for each mill that implements the technology.
Developing the nanomaterials industry
The CSIR and the Department of Science and Technology have launched a production facility that provides small and large South African enterprises, universities and research institutions with access to facilities and expertise to scale-up nano-based innovations to industrial and commercial levels.
The facility is supporting Greenfield Additives in its development and scale-up of nanomaterials used as a stabiliser in the production of plastics such as polyvinyl chloride. CSIR researchers also helped develop cosmetic products based on the Greenfield materials, further supporting the competitiveness of this SMME.
The facility is enabling Sappi to develop cosmetics and polymeric composites applications based on their cellulose nanofibres.
The Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility provides access to a versatile scale-up plant with sophisticated equipment and a skilled workforce with technological expertise in process development and scale-up. Researchers at the CSIR are knowledgeable about what happens to materials at the nano-scale and how the special properties such as surface-to-volume ratio and reactivity can be utilised. They also have a sound understanding of how engineering properties such as heat and mass transfer, as well as flow properties, must be considered during the scale-up of materials. A total of 34 interns have been trained at the facility. Of these, 16 are now employed in industry, six are continuing with their studies and eight are still at the facility.
Dr Manfred Scriba