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A R37.5 million biorefinery facility has been launched in Durban. The facility, which is a first for South Africa, will support a range of industries, including forestry, agro processing and other biomass-based industries.

Biofuel labThe 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 facility is the third Industry Innovation Partnership Fund (IIPF) initiative to be launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and 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.

The BIDF will be accessible to large industry and Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) for their research and development, analytical and pilot scale testing, evaluation, processing and development of technologies for processing biomass. Some of the equipment at the BIDF is unique in South Africa, according to the CSIR, and the facility is home to highly-skilled chemists, engineers and biologists who are well-versed in technologies for beneficiation and valorisation of biomass.

Significant investments are being made to develop the human capital required to support the initiative, the CSIR said. The organisation 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.

The initial focus of the BIDF will be 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 practiced on a very limited scale, with wood, pulp and paper waste ending up in landfill sites or being burned, stockpiled or even pumped out to sea.

In addition, South Africa 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.

Prof. Bruce Sithole, CSIR Manager for Forestry Products, says that the BIDF has potential to be of service to other sectors. For example, small quantities of waste chicken feathers are processed into feed for livestock, but the majority of the waste is traditionally disposed of by burning or landfilling. The BIDF is demonstrating that keratin can be successfully extracted from the poultry by-product to be used in high-value applications, such as nanostructured materials for biomedical applications, Sithole explains.

Image credit: Copyright: anawat / 123RF Stock Photo

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