Minister Naledi

Minister Naledi Pandor officiating the launch of the DST/CSIR Polymer Nanocomposites and Nano-additives Scaling-up Facility.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, officiated the launch of the DST/CSIR Polymer Nanocomposites and Nano-additives Scaling-up Facility today, 3 December 2015.

The facility will be used to develop nanostructures and nanocomposites, as well as commercialise such products for the benefit of the country.

Currently, the South African plastics industry is unable to produce products based on polymer nanocomposites due to lack of technological development (not keeping up with international trends) regarding advanced materials used, as well as the machines and processes used to produce plastic components and systems.

This facility will provide the South African plastics industry with nanostructures at a lower cost compared to importing, which will enable the plastics industry to compete on an international level in advanced polymers.

In her remarks, Mrs Pandor said, “All the facilities supported under the Industry Innovation Programme, including the Nano-materials Industrial Development Facility, have the potential to play a role in the development of high-technology small, medium and micro enterprises. This facility could enable such enterprises to take advantage of the rapidly growing international market in nano-structured materials and nano-composites.”

Other industries, such as cosmetics and catalysis, are also expected to benefit from the local production of nanostructures, saving up to an estimated R10 million (cosmetics) and R20 million (building materials, including paints) per annum.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor with CSIR’s chief researcher, Prof Suprakas Sinha Ray.

Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, the CSIR CEO, says the CSIR performs research to stimulate and improve the competitiveness of industry, and thereby contribute to the economy of the country. “We need to think differently. We need to explore new ways and mechanisms to enter areas of activities such as the beneficiation of our natural resources to create jobs, manufacture high-end components and export them,” he added.

Furthermore, given the world-class polymer processing instruments such as compounders, an injection moulder, a film blower, as well as a set of polymer and nanostructure characterisation and testing equipment, the facility is expected to spark the interest of similar international centres and facilities and even of universities and research facilities. Collaboration with such entities will offer a great opportunity to fast-track developments locally.

This will play a significant role in improving the competiveness of the industry, and the development and transformation of a range of industry-ready skills. “The Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility provides a platform to train interns, graduates and post-graduate students. These individuals will be equipped with practical skills which will greatly assist their entry into the chemical industry,” says world-renowned polymer nanocomposites researcher, Prof Suprakas Sinha Ray, who is the technical leader of the programme and also a CSIR chief researcher.

The international market in nanostructures and nanocomposites is growing rapidly and a cost reduction in nanostructures will make it possible to produce nanocomposites in South Africa and make the industry competitive internationally. “This facility would allow us to compete internationally in the area of synthetic cationic and anionic clay production, as well as producing local chemically modified natural Montmorillonite nanoclays. The programme will optimise and scale up local processes, which have the potential for price reductions while not compromising on quality,” adds Dr Manfred Scriba, the programme technologist.

This is one of four programmes funded by the DST as part of the Industrial Innovation Partnership Fund (IIPF), which seeks to support industry competitiveness. The main objective of the IIPF is to create an environment where government can effectively partner with industry and support co-investments in research, development and innovation in key strategic sectors of the economy.

By: Phiwokuhle Ngcayiya  

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