Biorefinery facility launched to address biomass waste challenges in South Africa

biogas 2919235 640The South African government has launched a US$3.18mn biorefinery facility in Durban, which is set to extract maximum value from biomass waste

The facility, which is a first for South Africa, is expected to support innovation in a range of industries including forestry, agro-processing and other biomass-based industries.

The minister of science and technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, 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. Technology innovations have been earmarked to help prevent job losses and enable growth in this sector.

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. The potential to extract value from it is not realised, which means lost opportunities for the country’s economy.

Additionally, 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.

The facility is the third Industry Innovation Partnership Fund (IIPF) initiative to be launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its entity, the CSIR. The other two are the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre and the Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility. The purpose of the IIPF is to support research and development programmes that enhance industry competitiveness.

Speaking at the launch, Kubayi-Ngubane said that 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 major recommendation of the report was for the government to put in place effective measures and mechanisms to attract the private sector to invest in R&D and innovation,” said the minister.

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