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March : A speech delivered by the minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

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23 March, 2018

A speech delivered by the minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Mamoloko Kubayi-Nguban, at the launch of the Bio-Reinery at the CSIR campus in eThekwini

A speech delivered by the minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Mamoloko Kubayi-Nguban, at the launch of the Bio-Reinery at the CSIR campus in eThekwini


Programme Director;
Dr Phil Mjwara - DG of Science and Technology
CSIR Board - Antonio Llobell, Philip Goyns, Adv Ghandi Badela
Dr. Thulani Dlamini - CEO, CSIR
CSIR Group Executives - Zanele Ngwepe, Sithembile Bhengu, and Dr Molefi Motuku
Cllr Bhekokwakhe Phewa - Office of the Mayor, Durban
Dr Jonas Mphepya - Acting Executive Director: NRE
Ms Jane Molony - Executive Director, Paper Manufacturers Association of SA;
President, International Council for Forest and Paper Associations
Dr Nelson Sefara - Technology Centre Manager, Sappi
Dr Johan de Graaf - Executive Manager: Strategy and Innovation, Hans Merensky
Dr Janice Dewar - CEO, SMRI
Ms Nomvuzo Tembe - CEO, eThala Management Services
Mr Mmboneni Muofhe - DST
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath - Deputy Vice Chancellor, UKZN
Rudolph Lungile Mabece - Chairperson, SAFCOL Board;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

The South African economy has been experiencing pedestrian growth levels in the recent years. In fact, our economy has never fully recovered from the 2008 global economic crisis. As a result of the poor economic growth our triple challenges, unemployment, poverty and inequality seem insurmountable. However, the challenges that we are experiencing as a country present us with an opportunity to put more emphasis on our national innovation system for that is how we will generate new avenues for growth. This is because we know that in order to make a dent in the unemployment rate and poverty and subsequently inequality, the economy needs to grow at about 6%.

South Africa, like all other countries of the world, faces enormous challenges of energy and food security, climate change and greening of the economy. To this end, South Africa has been developing a range of policy mechanisms all of which are intended to enhance the development of sustainable industries, protect environments and food resources, and to mitigate against climate change. Some of these initiatives include the Biofuel Industrial Strategy, the Bio-economy Strategy, The Green Economy Accord and Industrial Policy Action Plan. This is a part of the effort towards the realization of the National Development Plan.

Programme director,

The National Development plan has noted that for South Africa to sharpen its innovative edge it "requires greater investment in research and development, better use of existing resources, and more nimble institutions that facilitate innovation and enhanced cooperation between public science and technology institutions and the private sector". As a custodian of the National System of Innovation, the Department of Science and Technology has been playing a leading role in transforming the South African economy into a knowledge based economy. In doing this, we recognize that government alone cannot achieve this transformation without the participation of the private sector. This initiative we are launching today exemplifies what can be achieved when government and the private sector work together.

Programme director,

We believe that "The extent to which developing economies emerge as economic powerhouses depends on their ability to grasp and apply insights from science and technology and use them creatively" as the NDP also noted. Developing our industrial capacity at the back of our scientific research as a nation depends on a strong partnership between government and the private sector.  A strategic challenge for innovation policy is the need for alignment and strategic partnerships, especially between government and industry, not only in South Africa but across the world. In response to this challenge, there has been an explosion of various kinds of public private partnerships in research and innovation. In particular, partnerships are necessary in the forestry and paper and pulp sectors, as both nationally and internationally, these sectors are under financial strain.

According to the OECD, the fundamental rationale of most public private partnerships (PPPs) in research and innovation is to leverage broader economic and social benefits from joint investments. This helps to accelerate innovation and the development technological solutions that are essential for addressing key challenges in growing the economy and achieving societal wellbeing.

PPPs help build new innovation capabilities, improve connectivity within the national innovation systems and most importantly, PPPs help create a collaborative environment to maximize cross-disciplinary expertise among government, academic, and industry researchers. Over the last few years, our department has led and supported a vital part of this explosive growth of PPPs in South Africa. We have put in place a package of instruments and initiatives that are demonstrating value.

To demonstrate our commitment to the PPPs, we have introduced new initiatives such as Industry Innovation Centres, Sector Innovation Funds, the wheat breeding platform, and the soon to be launched Mining Precinct building on existing efforts by the DST and the DTI including programmes such as the THRIP, and the technology stations programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Bio-refinery Industrial Development Facility (BIDF) that we are launching today 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.

This facility will enable cutting-edge Research development and demonstration (RD&D) biorefinery initiatives for the use of lignocellulosic biomass waste to produce valuable products; up-scaling, piloting and demonstration of bio-refinery technologies. It will further promote inter-and multi- disciplinary research co-operations amongst key players and facilitate the training of skilled researchers and engineers in the biorefinery field as well as integration and activation of rural based bio-refinery facilities, to enable farmers and grassroots communities to participate and benefit from the implementation of the Bio-economy strategy through biomass supply, technology localisation and demonstration facilities.

There are a number of biorefinery programmes that have been identified for South Africa and these include:

  • Forestry bio-refinery
  • Sugar bio-refinery
  • Waste (green) bio-refinery
  • Algal bio-refinery

However, the BIDF is not only responding to the Bio-economy Strategy but also to the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap.  One of the priority waste streams in the Waste Research, Development & Innovation (RDI) Roadmap is Organic Waste. These include waste agricultural biomass as well as, for example, chicken feathers.  Chicken feathers represent a large waste stream in South Africa with more than a billion broilers slaughtered in South Africa in 2013. The keratin in chicken feathers has numerous applications once extracted.  From shampoos to textiles, the conversion of this waste stream into value-added products will help drive a circular economy in South Africa.  The BIDF has a critical role to play in building a circular economy through the development of innovative industries transforming what is now known as waste into valuable resources. The Waste RDI Roadmap is a strategy of government to unlock a potential R17 billion per annum into the South African economy, and the BIDF is an instrument to help us realise that vision.

More importantly, jobs will be created by supporting SMMEs who are interested in localisation of technologies from production of high value products from waste wood biomass.  For example, RSA currently imports xylitol, a low caloric sweetener that is beneficial for diabetics.  The BIDF is developing technologies for extraction of this compound from saw dust waste and these technologies are suitable for uptake by SMMEs.

More broadly, the Bio-refinery will contribute towards the realization of the DST's main objective of establishing critical mass and world class competency through the technology development value chain, comprising basic and applied research as well as technology translation and commercialization actions within the industrial bio-economy sector.

I am pleased to note that the BIDF is only the start of a journey towards the strengthening the innovation infrastructure in South Africa. Even as we launch the current centre, other teams at the CSIR at hard at work operationalizing two more centres that we are confident we will launch in the next 12-18 months. These include a centre in photonics and another one in the development of macro-nano devices.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the researchers, technology developers and the executive of the CSIR for making these centres a reality. Equally important is my thanks to the CSIR for working closely with our department to look at how the institutional design of the centres can be optimized to make the greatest possible impact whilst securing support and commitment from the private sector, provincial and local governments, and from other national government departments.    

The CSIR, through a process of rigorous reflection and assessment as part of Project Synapse has identified a range of exciting and value-adding initiatives that it plans to drive over the next few years.

I am confident that the plans that they have developed will resonate with key partners in the private sector, provincial and local government, other national government departments as well as other key stakeholders in the industrial development space such as the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). I look forward to getting feedback on the partnerships that are emerging as a result of these efforts.

I would like to end by re-iterating my commitment to further strengthening partnerships with the private sector as well as partnerships with provincial and local government and other national government departments. It's time for all us to work together. Let us heed President Ramaphosa's call for all us to work together.

Now is the time to lend a hand.

Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me'.

Thuma Mina!

I thank you.

Source: CSIR

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