Nanotechnology in South Africa: Market Report

Global Market ReportSouth Africa

This article was updated on the 5th January, 2023

South Africa is located at the southern tip of the African continent and has an area of 1,214,470 km2. The population of the country was 60.6 million as of 2022.

South Africa has abundant natural resources such as gold, gemstones, diamond, platinum, coal, phosphates, rare earth elements, uranium, salt, natural gas and several other metals.

The country has a dual economy that is considered the largest in Africa, and it is expected to grow by 1.1% in 2023, and 1.6% in 2024 following a small contraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the GDP of the country was US$419.02 billion.

Nanotechnology in South Africa

South Africa is one of many developing countries that has launched nanotechnology initiatives to enhance its expertise in this field.

In 2003, the South African Nanotechnology Initiative (SANi) was founded. A year later, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) launched the South Africa’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS). Later, in 2005, South Africa became one of the first countries in the world to publish an official nanotechnology strategy - the National Strategy on Nanotechnology (NSN).

These initiatives have increased South Africa’s nanotechnology capabilities. As a direct result of these efforts, there are currently several projects in progress that will further help to establish South Africa as a key player in the field of nanotechnology. The projects focus on a wide range of nanotechnology and nanoscience themes, such as fuel cell development, the synthesis of nanoparticles, nanophase catalysts and electro-catalysts, the development of better and cheaper solar cells, the synthesis of quantum dots and more.

Nanotechnology Organizations

South Africa has a few organizations and networks committed to promoting and exploring nanoscience. A brief introduction to these is given below:

NanoLand South Africa

NanoLand is a resource site for nanotechnology products and services in South Africa. Through this portal, consumers and researchers can utilize emerging technological services.

National Centre for Nano-structured Materials (NCNSM)

NCNSM is promoted by the Government’s Department of Science and Technology. The research focus of the group is in the design, modeling and synthesis of nanomaterials with specific properties and other possible applications. Their core focus is on carbon nanotubes, silicon nanoparticles and nanolayer deposition techniques. The group collaborates with units and centers in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), universities, science councils, the private and public sector and international research institutions.

DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC)

This is a national facility established at Mintek in 2007 by the Department of Science and Technology.

NIC activities are aimed at addressing national priorities highlighted by both the national nanotechnology strategy and the national research and development (R&D) strategy. It focuses on the transformation of South Africa from a resource-based economy towards a knowledge-based economy using nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology Companies

Through nanotechnology’s versatility, its applications are useful in a myriad of industries. A few nano-based companies in South Africa are listed below, along with a brief introduction to each of them:

PST Sensors

PST Sensors was founded in December 2010 by David Britton and Margit Harting, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) as a minority shareholder. From the broad range of applications, which can only be realized by the unique features of printed silicon technology, temperature sensors have proven to have the fastest market entry for both existing and new applications. PST Sensors works closely with the UCT NanoSciences Innovation Centre and other academic institutions for basic nanomaterials R&D and pre-commercial prototyping.

Comar Chemicals 

Comar Chemicals is one of the leading manufacturers of catalysts suitable for the production of synthetic polybutadiene rubber. Comar's products include Cobalt Rubber Adhesion Promoters, as well as nanoparticle chemicals. The company has two manufacturing plants; Atlantis near Cape Town and Infrapark Baselland, Muttenz, Switzerland.

Nanotechnology Education and Research

South Africa is home to a few universities offering research and educational opportunities in nanotechnology. These are listed below:

University of the Western Cape 

This University offers a postgraduate program in nanoscience, introductory courses in the wider aspects of nanoscience, courses in advanced nanoscience studies in the respective study fields, and a research thesis on a nano-study project.

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Located in Pietermaritzburg, the University promotes research work in nano-therapeutics.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU)

The Department of Physics provides research opportunities in the field of nanotechnology.

University of the Free State (UFS)

The University offers research opportunities in materials and nanosciences.

University of Johannesburg (UJ)

The Department of Applied Chemistry offers research options in the field of nanotechnology under the name of Nanomaterials Science Research Focus (NSRF). Over the past 20 years, UJ has been the most prolific publisher among universities in South Africa in terms of publishing papers on nanotechnology, contributing 14% of all nanotechnology papers.

Rhodes University

The Department of Chemistry offers research options in nanotechnology.

NanoSciences Innovation Centre

The Centre is an initiative of the Department of Physics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), aiming to turn cutting-edge nanoscience research into practical nanotechnology.

The CSIR-hosted National Centre for Nanostructured Materials (NCNSM)

Launched in 2007, the Centre collaborates with other national institutions to establish novel nanostructured materials.

The Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC)

NIC was established in 2007 by the government via the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Centre focuses on applying nanotechnologies in various industries such as water, health, mining and minerals.

Further Developments

In November 2007, South Africa launched its first nanotechnology innovation center. Being a developing nation, South Africa had much to gain from pursuing nanotechnology.

In 2008, significant investment and research were provided for nanotechnology. One example was the launch of the International La Villette nanotechnology exhibition at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg. The event was a partnership between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), France and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

In 2011, South Africa became the first nation in the African continent to own a new US$15 million electron microscopy center that aimed to enable the country and Africa to compete with the world's best in nanoscience and nanotechnology research.

Government funding of R&D outweighs that of the private sector. South Africa also intends to add capacity for developing advanced manufacturing technologies and R&D-led industries to transform its industrial base. From 2009-10, data indicated that South Africa's commitment to R&D spending had dropped off with US$2.3 billion spent in the 2009-10 fiscal year, equating to 0.87% of GDP, falling short of their goal of 1% of GDP by 2010. This was the third year in a row where R&D spending decreased (as a percentage of GDP), raising serious doubts that they would achieve the research expenditure goal of 2% of GDP by 2018. A reduction in R&D expenditure resulted from a massive drop off in funding from business and non-profit organizations, despite an increase in funding from the government.

The 2013 - 14 budget includes medium-term funding for two new universities and the improvement of facilities in existing universities. However, South Africa will need to increase its research expenditure to maintain its competitiveness as other nations continue to work on strategic plans and increase their research expenditure.

In nanotechnology, this has not been a specifically targeted focus area, with the Ten-Year Innovation Plan (2008-18) identifying its five "grand challenges" as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, space, energy security, climate change and understanding of social dynamics.

Combined with reduced levels of R&D spending, this does not paint a positive picture for South African nanotechnology; however, recent findings show that despite this, nanotechnology in South Africa is growing rapidly.

South African publications on the subject of nanotechnology increased by 2458% from 2000 to 2019. Given that total publications grew by just 508% over this period, it is clear that nanotechnology research publications grew much faster than other fields of science.

However, compared with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), South Africa has the lowest productivity in the field of nanotechnology, with an activity index over the last two decades of just 0.68. Meanwhile, China tops the group with an activity index of 2.

South Africa would benefit from collaborating with BRICS countries that are more active in this field to strengthen its position as a major player in the global nanotechnology space. It is also advisable that they benchmark their strategies and policies to help them reach their full potential and not fall behind other competing nations.

References and Further Reading

60,6 million people in South Africa [online]. Statistics South Africa. Available from: 

Masara, B., van der Poll, J.A. and Maaza, M. (2021) A nanotechnology-foresight perspective of South Africa,” Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 23(4). Available at:

Nicola Jenny. 2013. Survey shows failure to reach R&D target of 1% of GDP [online]. University World News. Available from: 

Science and Innovation: South Africa [online]. OECD. Available from:

South Africa Economic Snapshot [online]. OECD. Available from: 

South Africa: Gross domestic product (GDP) in current prices from 1987 to 2027 [online]. Statista. Available from: 

State of nanotechnology research and industry in South Africa [online]. OECD. Available from: 

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