Scientific innovations across sectors and projects undertaken in various provinces: Department of Science and Technology & Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefing to Committee

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

05 August 2015
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefed the Committee on scientific innovations across sectors and projects undertaken in various provinces. A number of products had been undertaken by the CSIR in supporting resource-based industries through multidisciplinary science and technology. The CSIR was also supporting manufacturing industries through enhancing existing, or creating new, products, processes and services. There were challenges in mines generating volumes of waste/tailings that are pumped in slurry form into dams. If not pumped fast enough, heavier particles settle and blockages occur. The CSIR developed a device to detect sedimentation, also useful in saving water and energy as mines can adapt pump speed and water volume. Work had been undertaken in consortium with Stoner, Paterson and Cooke consulting engineers.

Research and development was undertaken on crops assessed for feasibility on mined land, mostly dunes, and it was discovered that crops are viable if equalled/exceeded the yield benchmark of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture for three years. On health and safety platform, there were still challenges in the dangers of mining especially methanol/coal dust mixtures as causing explosions and air pollution.

The pulp and paper industry was currently in decline and required diversity as it employed about 150 000 people. Only 40% of the tree was used currently as digital technology has taken over. The CSIR and the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZ) were working on finding new ways of reducing waste by generating high-value products from the remainder of the tree products such as fuels, power and chemicals. The Industrial Energy Efficiency Project was implemented by UNIDO and the NCPC, hosted at the CSIR on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry (dti). In the past 5 years, this had assisted 80 industry plants to save enough energy to electrify 120 000 middle-income South African homes for a year and the financial saving of R759 million and carbon emissions offset of 800 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Members wanted to know whether any strategy was in place to deal with the people that were stealing electricity as this was robbing Eskom of potential revenue. What was the role of the CSIR in ensuring that there was enough research in HIV/AIDS especially in ensuring that the test results were verified and made accurate? Members asked whether plans were in place to mitigate the impact of acid mine drainage as this often impacted on the quality of water.

It was pointed out that the presentation was largely technical and it would be useful it could be simplified in the future in order for Members to be better able to engage. One Member asked about the role of the CSIR in employment creation, especially for young people. 

Meeting report


Briefing by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
Dr Molefi Motuku, Group Executive: Research and Development, indicated that the CSIR had 2 411 staff members and had conducted more than 2 000 projects. The research, development and innovation were all important to industrial development and competitiveness and the CSIR was supporting resource-based industries through multidisciplinary science and technology. The CSIR was also supporting manufacturing industries through enhancing existing, or creating new, products, processes and services. There were challenges in mines generating volumes of waste/tailings pumped in slurry form into dams. If not pumped fast enough, heavier particles settle and blockages occur. The CSIR developed a device to detect sedimentation, which was also useful in saving water and energy as mines can adapt pump speed and water volume. Work was undertaken in consortium with Stoner, Paterson and Cooke consulting engineers.

The CSIR was engaged in research that can pinpoint crops that can be grown on mined land. Richards Bay Minerals called on the CSIR to determine which crops could be grown on previously mined land, which was is a countrywide problem. There was research and development on crops assessed for feasibility on mined land, mostly dunes, and it was discovered that crops are viable if equalled/exceeded yield the benchmark of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture for three years.

On health and safety, there were still challenges in terms of the dangers of mining, especially methanol/coal dust mixtures causing explosions, and air pollution. The CSIR undertook research and development by inspection of self-contained self-rescuers, which provide oxygen during underground emergencies, and training in explosion suppression, and monitoring in the workplace to ensure that there are exposure limits in dust and diesel particulate matter.

The CSIR was involved in mitigating the impact of acid mine drainage that often occurs when highly acidic water discharges and flows into water sources. The CSIR has developed low-cost absorbents for the mining industry using clay nanocomposites to remove chromium in water. Wetlands offset the impact of pollution and Coaltech funded rehabilitation of part of wetland system in the Oliphants River. Concrete structures were built (steel used in gabion structures will be eroded by acidic water). The CSIR was proud to see an immediate improvement of wetland.

New products are developed from pulp and paper waste. The pulp and paper industry is in decline and requires diversity as it employs about 150 000 people. Only 40% of the tree is used currently as digital technology has taken over. The CSIR and the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZ) were working on finding new ways of reducing waste by generating high-value products from the remainder of the tree products like fuels, power and chemicals. New equipment had been acquired for specialised testing on pulp and paper biomass.

87.7% of PMGs was found in South Africa, Chromium (72.4%), and Manganese (80%), Titanium (52%) and Gold (12.7%). It was important for a country like South Africa to protect its natural resources. Nanoclays are nanoparticles of layered mineral silicates and South Africa has an abundance of clay and researchers assess the suitability of local clays to be chemically modified to change their mechanical and thermal properties. This is often used in automotive, packaging, cosmetics and plastic industries. The CSIR was engaged in nanoclay research that was focused on modifying the surface of nanoclays to make it more readily mixable with plastics and optimising the processing conditions. This is used by the PVC pipe industry, packaging and automotive. The beneficiation of nanoclay-based products in development included antiperspirant roll-on, antimicrobial paint and soup.

There was also a focus on aerospace, especially supporting promising aerospace enterprises; the main challenge being strengthening the aerospace sector. The CSIR was engaged in identification of Small Medium Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and associated technologies for support. Three promising technologies have emerged following support by the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) of the Department of Trade and Industry (dti). The CSIR has noted a challenge of derailment of trains, which can cause damages and estimated to cost R50 million per accident, and developed an ultrasonic system that detects railway breaks and the ultrasonic waves transmitted along the rail between transmitter and receiver. Transducers are installed on heavy-duty iron ore line in South Africa (860km Sishen to Saldanha Bay) and the prototypes are manufactured at the CSIR.

Dr Motuku highlighted the industry energy efficiency projects that reduced the load of industry on energy grid and improving the competitiveness of industry. The Industrial Energy Efficiency Project was implemented by UNIDO and the NCPC, hosted at the CSIR on behalf of the dti. In the past 5 years, this assisted 80 industry plants to save enough energy to electrify 120 000 middle-income South African homes for a year. Financial saving of R759 million and carbon emissions offset of 800 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. There are more than 6 000 abandoned mines in South Africa and the costs of rehabilitating abandoned mines was R29 billion of state funds and on-going maintenance costs of R5 billion per annum. The CSIR created a detection of electricity leaks on power lines using a camera as it visualises UV discharge. Eskom approached the CSIR in 1990-20 years later this system was exported to 32 countries, and captured 50% of the world market.

Other commercialisation successes included environmentally friendly water treatment products using indigenous bacteria and aquaculture product to improve fish production, products for septic tanks and biological pests. This created a legacy of environmental, social and economic degradation with little progress towards sustainable rehabilitation solutions. The CSIR has developed essential oils and converted medical plants, and there are community projects that develop high-value, low volume botanical products. There are seven essential oil enterprises including: rose, geranium, lavender and buchu, and ten medical plant demonstration projects like Sutherlandia, African ginger and devil’s claw. The Uganda Industrial Research Institute had contracted the CSIR to assist with development of the essential oil sector in Uganda.

Discussion
The Chairperson indicated that it would be good for the Committee to be able to visit the sites where the CSIR was doing the projects in order to observe the work that had been done and possibly increase the allocated budget. She wanted to know the role played by the CSIR on research on HIV/AIDS, especially in ensuring that the test results are accurate.

Ms May Hermanus, Natural Resources and Environment, CSIR, responded that the CSIR was involved in research on HIV/AIDS but the issue of accuracy of the test results was always complex as the testing was often done in different areas. The counselling of those who had done the HIV/AIDS test was also recommended, particularly informing those who had the test that the results might change when repeated.

Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West) asked if there were any mechanisms that could assist with the problem of polluted dams, as this was a huge problem particularly in North West. It is important to know about the role that the CSIR had played in employment creation particularly for young people, as this was the main focus of the current government. The presentation was largely technical and it would be useful if it could be simplified in future presentations.

Ms Hermanus responded that there had been challenges in mines generating volumes of waste/tailings that are pumped in slurry form into dams. If not pumped fast enough, heavier particles settle and blockages occur. The CSIR had developed a device to detect sedimentation, also useful in saving water and energy as mines can adapt pump speed and water volume. Work was undertaken in consortium with Stoner, Paterson and Cooke consulting engineers.

Mr S Masango (Gauteng, DA) asked whether any strategy was in place to deal with the problem of contamination of rivers or dams in the country as this was having an impact on the country’s water supply.

Mr C Smit (DA, Limpopo) asked about the role of the CSIR in dealing with the problem of stolen electricity as this was affecting the revenue of Eskom. He commended the CSIR on the role it had played in creating an ultrasonic system that detects railway breaks and the ultrasonic waves transmitted along the rail between transmitter and receiver.

Dr Motuku responded that the CSIR had created a detection of electricity leaks on power lines using a camera as it visualises UV discharge. Eskom approached the CSIR in 1990-20 years later this system was exported to 32 countries, and captured 50% of the world market. However, it was always difficult to detect electricity that is stolen directly from power stations especially near informal settlements.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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