POLYMER NANO-ADDITIVES SCALE-UP FACILITY
The National Centre for Nano-Structured Materials is introducing a Nano-additives and Polymer Nanocomposites Scale-up Facility at its site in the CSIR. This is the first of its kind in South Africa, and is intended to be used not only by the Centre and the CSIR, but by groups in South Africa who need a site to help in scaling-up their materials to a semi-industrial level, where it can then be tested in industry. This facility will be implemented during the 2013/14 financial year.
The project has many benefits for the country, mainly that it will assist in developing the plastic industry to an international level. The local industry is generally not able to produce products based on polymer nanocomposites, due to the high cost of importing nanocomposites and/or nano fillers and additives. It is thus already delayed in this important material and technology development and runs the risk of not being able to recover sufficiently to be competitive internationally. To rectify this, one needs to locally develop and manufacture the required nano fillers and nanocomposites, allowing a cost reduction in these commodities for industrial input. Critical to this is the establishment of such a facility for the up-scaling of nanostructures and nanocomposites in order to allow laboratory scale quantities to be ‘upscaled’ to sufficient quantities for industry testing.
This will allow researchers to test their synthesis processes on a semi-industrial scale. Using the polymer processing equipment, the nanomaterials can also now be incorporated into the polymer matrix, also in semi-industrial quantities.
Now it is possible to take the proven technology further down the value chain, set up industrial scale production facilities and start producing industrial quantities.
The facility will also hold a number of important polymer processing units such as compounders, injection and blow moulders, a film blower as well as a set of polymer and nanostructure characterisation equipment. These instruments will be used for the production of up-scale quantities of nanocomposites.
The facility will also fulfil a critical role in human capital development (HCD) in that at least 6 interns per year will be trained on the operation of the equipment of the upscale facility. The experience will assist these students to find employment in industry where they are expected to make an impact through their knowledge and expertise.
Furthermore, in the second phase of its establishment, the polymer processing part of the facility will be available for the testing and evaluation of industrial samples and further development of these materials.
- Increase competitiveness of industry by student training, sample processing and product development/commercialisation.
- The facility aims to licence products to industry as well as spin out companies to manufacture the up-scaled materials. The process offers the opportunity of inclusive growth and establishes the framework for growth in the industry and thus job creation.
- HCD: The up-scale facility, as well as the characterisation equipment offers a good opportunity to use the facility to train interns, graduate and post-graduate students. These individuals will thus be equipped with practical skills which will greatly assist their entry into the plastics industry