By Ashok Ramsarup :: South African scientists are making a formidable impact on the waste management scenario by developing technologies that valorize organic waste into higher-value chemicals and products.
Dr Viren Chunilall, the Research Group Leader of the Bio-refinery Industry Development Facility (BIDF) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) based in the port city of Durban, leads a team of scientists that develops, localizes, and diffuses technologies to accelerate socio-economic development in South Africa. These technologies embrace circular economy principles by valorizing waste biomass from typical manufacturing processes thus creating additional revenue streams for the industry.
Biomass is a renewable; carbon-neutral resource and bio-fuels derived from it usually burn more cleanly than fossil fuels. It can also be a source of valuable chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food additives.
“The aim of the projects at our facility is to reduce the barriers for industry and small, medium and micro enterprises(SMMEs) in developing, testing and adapting biorefinery technologies applied to South African biomass sources,” says Dr Chunilall.
He points out that various kinds of biomass can be converted to bio-fuel and chemicals thus reducing the dependence on fossil fuels for similar products: “Some of the biomass examples include wood and wood waste, agricultural crops, agricultural waste and food waste from food processing operations”.
Dr Chunilall, a doctoral graduate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has supervised several doctoral and master’s students in Biorefinery Projects. He is a member of the Forestry Masterplan Steering Committee (oversight and implementation provided by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)); Biorefinery Working Group of the International Bio-Economy Forum led by the Department of Science and Innovation, Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Chemical Engineering (UKZN) and Chemistry Board Member at the Durban University of Technology.
He recently completed the Future Leader Development Programme at the WITS Business School and was also the winner of the “Emerging Leader” award at the recent CSIR’s Future Production Chemicals Excellence Awards.
Now the award-winning researcher has advised industries on biomass waste beneficiation technologies and he and his team are dedicated to demonstrating waste beneficiation biorefinery technologies to bridge the gap between pre-commercialisation instruments for technology development and full entry on a commercial scale.
Dr Chunilall concludes that “the transformation of waste biomass by industry contributes to sustainable production and improved waste management thereby mitigating, to a certain extent, climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.”
During an AllMediaLink investigation, it found that a wide stretch of organic waste was being dumped daily at the landfill site in Springfield, Durban, situated near the Springfield Further Education and Training College, causing some consternation, and affecting teaching and learning at the College. Technologies under development at the Biorefinery Facility will thus have an impact on waste diversion from landfilling.