CSIR CEO: Dr Sibisi,

CSIR Group Executive (Research and Development) Dr Molefi Mutuku.

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 launch today, 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. It is the culmination of a long-term investment in research and development in nanotechnology as an emerging research area.

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 small, medium and micro enterprises (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.

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 SMMEs. In turn, this could enable these enterprises to take advantage of the rapidly growing international market in nano-structures and nano-composites.

There are a number of government programmes that harness and support industry investment in R&D – like the Department of Trade and Industry’s (the dti) Support Programme for Industry Innovation and the Technology and Human Resources in Industry Programme, as well as various industry innovation support initiatives of the Technology Innovation Agency and the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) Sector Innovation Fund programme.

As the CSIR Industry Innovation projects mature, it is expected that they will leverage significant levels of private sector investment, both cash and in kind, from the relevant sectors.

That’s the big picture. I want to say a few words about nanotechnology.

The DST’s nanotechnology development efforts are guided by the 2005 National Nanotechnology Strategy. The Strategy aims 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 (i) address the social challenges the country faces in the area of water, health, and energy and (ii) confer competitiveness to the country’s strategic industries, these being (a) mining and minerals, (b) chemicals and bio-processing, and (c) advanced materials and manufacturing. An implementation plan was developed in 2006 that rested on four pillars, (i) human capital development, (ii) infrastructure, (iii) responsible development and (iv) innovation.

To create the capability for nanotechnology innovation, and position South Africa optimally to reap the potential benefits of nanotechnology, the Department established two Nanotechnology Innovation Centres based at the CSIR and Mintek. Whilst the Centres primary purpose is to create an enabling environment for nanotechnology innovation, these Centres have served as characterisation facilities, housing sophisticated and cutting-edge research equipment, which are too expensive for each university to have on its own. These facilities, which are world-class in many respects, are accessible to the broader stakeholder community.

The Centres have made a significant contribution to the advancement of nanotechnology development in the country and abroad. Established in 2007, the Centres have made great progress, having contributed significantly to knowledge generation and human capital development (as measured by number of publications and postgraduate students they have helped graduate) and innovation (as measured by the number of patents and prototype products produced).

Nanotechnology development in South Africa has grown considerably. This is largely due to the Department’s efforts, which have seen the introduction of several nanotechnology development initiatives. Included in these are the National Nanotechnology Equipment Programme, the Nanotechnology Flagship Programme, and the nano-sciences and nano-technologies research chairs. These have helped catapult nanotechnology research in the country to a point where we are globally recognised.

The National Nanotechnology Equipment Programme, in particular, has led to the establishment of world-class nanotechnology research facilities. It has given birth to the Centre for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy, which is established at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Given its capability and associated feeder instruments, this Centre is among the best in the world.

The nanotechnology flagship programme has also contributed significantly to the development of nanotechnology. Managed by the National Research Foundation and having commenced in the 2008/09 financial year, the programme has yielded no less than 305 publications in ISI journals, 13 filed patents and about 390 postgraduate students supported. These outputs were secured with an investment of about R47 million to date.

Through the DST’s Research Chairs initiative, six nanotechnology-associated research chairs have been placed at six universities. These have to date produced more than 150 publications and 20 PhD and 30 MSc graduates.

In summary, then, the Nano-materials Industrial Development Facility is an important milestone in a long innovation journey.

As we look forward to the impact that the Nano-materials Industrial Development Facility is likely to have on economic growth, the DST continues to promote public and private sector investment in R&D. South Africa should be launching facilities such as this one on a monthly basis – if not on a weekly basis. The 1.5% investment target can only be reaching by government and business working together.


News Reporter