A R37.5 million biorefinery industry development facility has been established at the CSIR in Durban to help ensure that maximum value is extracted from biomass waste.
The facility, launched by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, resulted from the Department of Science and Technology’s Industry Innovation Partnership Fund and will support innovation in a range of biomass-based industries, including forestry and agro-processing, among others.
The initial focus of the facility is the forestry sector, which is under financial strain globally. Biorefinery in South Africa’s pulp and paper industry is practiced 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, resulting in lost opportunities for the country’s economy. Furthermore, 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 holds potential for other sectors; for example, exploring the use of chicken feathers in high-value products. 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. However, this facility is already demonstrating that keratin can be extracted successfully from the poultry by-product and used in high-value applications, such as nanostructured materials for biomedical applications.
The new facility is accessible to large industry and small-, medium- and micro-sized enterprises for their research and development, analytical and pilot scale testing, evaluation, processing and development of technologies for processing biomass.