2005 nano strategy pays off with new facility

December 4th, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Minister Naledi Pandor being shown some of the product developments in the new DST-CSIR Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility

Minister Naledi Pandor being shown some of the product developments in the new DST-CSIR Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility.

The state-of-the-art DST-CSIR Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), in partnership with the CSIR, is the result of nanotechnology development efforts guided by the 2005 National Nanotechnology Strategy and follows earlier successful research and development at laboratory level.

The Strategy aimed to effect both economic and social development. In terms of the Strategy, the development of nanotechnology in the country should be geared towards taking the potential advantages of nanotechnology to: address the social challenges the country faces in the area of water, health, and energy; and confer competitiveness to the country’s strategic industries, these being mining and minerals; chemicals and bio-processing, and advanced materials and manufacturing. An implementation plan was developed in 2006 that rested on four pillars of human capital development, infrastructure, responsible development and innovation.

The facility is part of one of the five programmes funded by DST, through the CSIR, as part of the Industrial Innovation Partnership Fund (IIPF), which seeks to support industry competitiveness. Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor says the facility provides the capabilities for the industrial-scale production of nano-structured materials.

“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,” she said

One of the industries that is set to benefit from the research advances and introduction of an industry-scale testing facility, is the plastics industry. The addition of nanomaterials in the manufacturing of plastics can significantly enhance the mechanical properties of plastics. Plastics can, for example, be made stronger, lighter and more fire and ultraviolet resistant. Addressing the technological development of the plastics industry will enable the industry to keep up with international trends, both in the level of advanced materials used, and in the machines and processes used to produce plastic components and systems.

“Due to the high cost of importing nano-structured materials such as nanoclays, and the absence of local manufacturing capability for these materials, the plastics industry is generally struggling to adopt advanced polymers such as nanocomposites on a large scale. If these challenges are not addressed, there will be continued importation of special polymer material and products at significant cost and to the detriment of local manufacturers,” says director at the National Centre for Nanostructured Materials and CSIR chief researcher, Prof. Suprakas Ray.

The facility houses infrastructure for scale-up, processing and testing. It will also play a crucial role in developing skills and transferring technologies to industry.

Significant progress towards industry’s development goals has been achieved in the first 18 months of the programme, including the development of four new products and technologies which are currently being evaluated by companies. The four products include two cosmetic products, organically modified South African nanoclay minerals, and polypropylene-based nanocomposites.

The international market in nano-structured materials and nanocomposites is growing rapidly. Nanoclay composites for instance are expected to increase from a 2011 volume of 24, to 74-million metric tonnes and a global value of $3-billion by 2016. In South Africa, the total plastic consumption is in the order of 1,3-million metric ton or R35-billion per annum, and accounts for an estimated 3,2% of the manufacturing sector.

“The facility will allow us to compete internationally in the production of nanoclays, which are nanoparticles of layered mineral silicates, opening up possibilities for a broad range of new products and applications”, the minister said in her keynote address. “The programme will facilitate optimisation and scale-up of local industrial processes that employ synthetic nanoclays, potentially reducing the cost of production and improving quality.

The CSIR’s R500-million Industry Innovation Partnership was established in 2013, and intended to run over the three-year 2013 MTEF period. The Industry Innovation Partnership ​ incentivises industry R&D investment in programmes that maintain and increase export market share; and mitigates against under-investment in technology and innovation in identified niche or strategic sectors of the South African economy. For example, it includes satellite manufacturing, titanium powder development, ICT, and nanotechnology.”

“The Nano-materials Industrial Development Facility, which we launched, will provide the capabilities for the industrial-scale production of nano-structures and nano-applications required for industrial testing. It provides a unique technology and product development capability for South Africa, with respect to nano-structures.

“One of the key objectives of the Industry Innovation Partnership is to encourage the private sector to invest more into R&D. It enables strategic partnerships with the private sector (established firms as well as emerging players and SMMEs). For example, the CSIR has entered into partnerships with companies like AMKA (one of the largest pharmaceutical firms in South Africa), as well as emerging companies such as Greenfields Technologies, particularly in the product development space.”

Minister Pandor said this is front page news and that it is time for the media to inform the public  about the good news stories and the science and technology that we as a country are engaged in.

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