Nanotechnology in South Africa: Market Report

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 48,810,427 as of July 2012.

South Africa has abundant natural resources such as gold, gemstones, diamonds, platinum, coal, phosphates, rare earth elements, uranium, salt, natural gas, and several other metals. The country has a mixed economy that is considered the largest in Africa. As per 2011 estimates, the GDP of the country was $554.6 billion.

South Africa has been deemed the most technologically advanced country in Africa, according to a 2010 survey.

Nanotechnology Organisations

South Africa has a few organisations and networks committed to promoting and exploring nanoscience. A brief introduction to the chief nanotechnology-related organisations in South Africa is given below:

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

National Centre for Nano-structured Materials (NCNSM) - is promoted by the Government’s Department of Science and Technology. The research focus of the group is on design, modeling and synthesis of nanomaterials with specific properties and other possible applications. Core focus is on carbon nanotubes, silicon nanoparticles and nanolayer deposition techniques. The group collaborates with units and centres in the CSIR, universities, science councils, the private and public sector and international research institutions.

DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre (NIC) - NIC 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 national research and development (R&D) strategy. It keen interest is to see the transformation of  South Africa from resource-based economy towards knowledge-based economy using nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology Companies

Nanotechnology being a versatile field finds applications in a myriad of industries. There is a vast scope for companies in South Africa to use nanotechnology and make an impact in the country. 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 share holder. 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 (Pty) Ltd is one of the leading manufacturers of catalysts suitable for the production of synthetic polybutadiene rubber. Comar's latest product developments include Cobalt Rubber Adhesion Promoters, as well as nano-particle chemicals. The company has two manufacturing plants, one situated in Atlantis near Cape Town, South Africa, and its new plant, in the Infrapark Baselland, Muttenz, Switzerland.

Nanotechnology Education and Research

South Africa is home to a few universities offering research and educational opportunities in nanotechnology. Given below is a list of universities in South Africa and the academic courses or research opportunities offered by them in various aspects of nanotechnology.

University of the Western Cape - offers Postgraduate programme 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-Natalis 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).

Rhodes University - The Department of Chemistry offers research options in nanotechnology.

NanoSciences Innovation Centre - is an initiative of the Department of Physics at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The Centre aims at turning cutting-edge nanoscience research into practical nanotechnology.

Recent Developments

In November 2007, South Africa launched its first nanotechnology innovation centre. Being a developing nation, the nation has a lot to gain from pursuing nanotechnology. A minister from the government stated that South Africa was ready to create an environment conducive to harnessing the potential benefits of nanotechnology in the coming years.

In 2008, significant investment and research has been provided to the science of 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 centre that aimed at enabling the country and Africa to compete with the world's best in nanoscience and nanotechnology research.

Growth in GERD in the period 2003 to 2008 is the result of the National R&D Strategy. While private funding of R&D barely increased, government spending almost doubled. South Africa also intends to add capacity for developing advanced manufacturing technologies and R&D-led industries in order to transform their industrial base.

More recently, data indicates that South Africa's commitment to R&D spending has 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 research expenditure goal of 2% of GDP by 2018. This reduction in R&D expenditure is the result of a massive drop off of funding from the business and non-profit organisations, despite increases in funding from the government.

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

In terms of 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. This combined with reduced levels of R&D spending do not paint a positive picture for South African nanotechnology, and it would not be surprising to see South Africa overtaken by some other emerging economies.

Sources and Further Reading

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