Address by Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, at the launch of the Multipurpose Fluorination Pilot Plant at South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa)
17 Jul 2012Acting CEO of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, Mr Don Robertson
Chairperson of the Pelchem Board, Dr Nazreen Shaik-Peremanov
Pelchem board members
Managing Director of Pelchem, Dr Petro Terblanche
Former CEO of Necsa, Former Chairman of Pelchem Board of Directors and current Group Executive of the Aveng Group, Dr Rob Adam
Incumbents of the Fluorochemistry research chairs, Prof. Deresh Ramjugernath of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Prof. Philip Crouse of the University of Pretoria
Ladies and gentlemen,
What an interesting and inspiring day it has been so far, and I get the feeling that it’s going to get even better. It started early this morning with the live e-TV broadcast from Pelchem, and now after a warm welcome from Dr Shaik-Peremanov and an informative presentation by Mr Rajen Naidoo, we are within touching distance of the ribbon-cutting, the final ceremonial act that will signal the official opening of the multi-purpose fluorination pilot Plant at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa.
Let me say at the outset what an immense privilege it is to be in this portfolio and to working with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) at this time in our country’s development. These are indeed exciting days for science and technology in South Africa, the continent of Africa and the world. Despite the current climate of global economic uncertainty, advances in scientific knowledge continue. Allow me to cite just a few examples.
Just a month ago, as part of a United Nations campaign to promote the use of clean energy, Frenchman Xavier Chevrin arrived in Johannesburg in his electric-powered car. Chevrin had travelled all the way from Nairobi in his vehicle powered only by sodium nickel chloride batteries.
Just a fortnight ago, researchers using National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA’s) Hubble Space Telescope announced the detection of a previously undiscovered fifth moon around the planet of Pluto.
Also just a fortnight ago, physicists all over the world were celebrating the discovery of and confirmation the elusive Higgs Boson particle.
Our own young scientists in the making are starting to make their presence felt: a nineteen year old South African matriculant by the name of Chené Mostert recently won an award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh in the United States, for her invention of a sterilising device which kills bacteria on toothbrushes.
And this brings us back to what we are celebrating today - it is a matter of common knowledge that the fluoride in toothpaste, which revolutionised the fight against tooth decay, is one the many products of the fluoro-chemical industry.
Closer to home, the scientific community in Africa is still abuzz with the news that we have been awarded the right to host the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, and a number of benefits are already materialising from the selection of our country as a major location for this Array.
Ladies and gentlemen, the launch of this multipurpose plant is hugely significant. We have in South Africa the largest fluorspar reserves in the world. We are blessed with an abundant competence in the handling of fluoro-chemical processes and products, and we are a significant supplier to hydrogen fluoride producers, providing 5 per cent of global fluoride requirements. And yet we earn only 0.3 per cent of the total value of the global fluorochemical industry.
This pilot plant represents the beginnings of a decisive conversion of this strategic advantage towards industrial activity, business and job-creation. Moreover, this initiative supports the government’s chemical sector development strategy to counter the trade deficit in chemical products, and forms part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s broader industrial policy framework.
The pharmaceutical industry is one of the industries that will benefit from advances in flourochemicals. In her Budget Vote address earlier this year, Minister Pandor announced the establishment of Ketlaphela, a joint venture between our Government through Pelchem and Lonza, a leading global player in pharmaceuticals. This R1.6 billion project will result in the establishment of the first pharmaceutical plant to manufacture Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients for Anti-Retroviral Medicines in South Africa.
This is in line with the country’s plan to address HIV and Aids through local and cost effective production of antiretroviral drugs. Ketlaphela will significantly reduce the country’s dependence on imported drugs and will provide a security of supply of priority drugs, stable pricing will less sensitivity to exchange.
In March 2009, when the former Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, launched the Fluorochemicals Research and Development Programme, he said that South Africa had the ability to expand its fluorochemical industry by building world-class facilities and plants that would produce and export high-value fluorochemical products. Today we can see that Mr Mangena’s optimism was not unfounded. We continue to build on this vision, and believe that this and other developments in this sector will not only develop much-needed human capital, but also have the potential to significantly reduce the country's chemical trade deficit through exports, attract foreign direct investment and increase high-tech research and development.
The Department of Science and Technology is contributing in various ways to the achievement of this dream. For example, starting in 2008, the DST has allocated in excess of R77 million for research and development and skills development in fluorochemicals as part of the Fluorochemicals Industrial Development Programme. The outputs for the first phase of the Fluorochemicals Research and Development Programme have been significant and are helping to build a critical mass in research, development and innovation that will support the long-term growth and development of a stronger fluorochemicals industrial base.
Not many research groups can boast having published more than 50 publications in scientific journals, delivered close to 60 conference presentations, filed three patents and produced more than 20 postgraduate science and engineering students in a mere three years. I commend you for that.
One of the Department of Science and Technology's priorities is to increase research and development outputs, ensuring that our researchers have access to world-class research facilities and enticing increasing numbers of young people to pursue careers in science and technology. Our department has therefore provided a grant for research and development to increase the capacity of technical skills at Pelchem, and is committed to stepping up strategic investments in research, development and innovation activities that support the objectives of sustainably growing our economy and improving the quality of life of our people.
However, within the constrained fiscal environment, we are constantly called upon to demonstrate the link between research and development, competitiveness and innovation from investments that we make. This is why the plant we are opening here today is so encouraging – it is a tangible demonstration of the value of investing in research and development, and a reward for the countless scientists, technologists and officials who have worked so hard to get to this day.
In order to ensure that research findings have a commercial component, we made available R31 million to establish this pilot plant. It was a good decision. We believe that the plant will greatly enhance the Fluorochemicals Industrial Development Programme through the following:
The area of fluorochemicals is also benefiting from the South African Research Chairs Initiative. This Initiative is one of the DST’s flagship projects, designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation. We now have no less than 152 of these Research Chairs. In 2008, two research chairs specialising in fluorochemicals were established at the universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal.
- The production of representative samples for commercial qualification.
- The generation of engineering data for the design of commercial plants.
- The provision of environmental and cost information to support techno-economic studies, feasibility studies and business negotiations.
- The verification of the scale-up of production processes from laboratory to pilot plant as a proxy for full-scale commercial production.
- The provision of a training and skills development facility for young scientists, engineers and technicians, helping them to assume full roles in shaping a new innovative society.
Professors Crouse and Ramjugernath deserve a special word of praise for working so diligently and closely with Pelchem and South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) to build high-level human capital to support the development of skills and competencies in fluorochemicals. I have every confidence that the current close working relationships in respect of the Fluorochemicals Industrial Development Programme will be cemented in the years to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would encourage all stakeholders involved in the fluorochemicals sector to work together, as the journey from basic research and development to commercialisation requires close co-operation from various stakeholders. I am excited about what the future holds in this regard, and look forward to more seminal moments such as the one we are privileged enough to be witnessing today.
To conclude, allow me extend my congratulations to Pelchem and Necsa for spearheading this venture. It is an enormous contribution towards our ongoing efforts to expand industrial capacity in South Africa and to build an innovative industrial base. This plant, ladies and gentlemen, is the sort of initiative that shows how science, technology and innovation can not only increase our country’s global competitiveness, but also produce tangible solutions towards addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from the late Japanese chemist Kenichi Fukui, a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981: “Chemistry itself knows altogether too well that - given the real fear that the scarcity of global resources and energy might threaten the unity of mankind - chemistry is in a position to make a contribution towards securing a true peace on earth.”
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
17 Jul 2012
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