By Dr. Vincent Nyamori and Dr. Werner Van Zyl, June 2012
Green chemistry is a philosophy that aims to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of waste and to maximise the efficiency of chemical products and processes. As such, green chemistry can be applied to sustainable topics such as energy, agriculture, water purification, and many others. In South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) plays a key role on in deciding science policy.
In 2007, the DST launched the Ten-year Innovation Plan (TYIP), which incorporated the five Grand Challenges. This plan greatly implicates and overlaps with Green Chemistry. One of the main TYIP challenges was the issue of “Enhancing the culture of innovation and using it to strengthen economic growth.” Practical mechanisms were being put into place by government to achieve this. This included creation of The Centres of Competence (CoC) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). The CoCs would bring together existing capacities in the national system of innovation (NSI) from industry, government and science councils into a special purpose vehicle that works towards a common objective. The field of green chemistry was one such potential area in which a CoC, could be established.
Other associations of the Ten-Year Innovation Plan (TYIP) for a green chemistry programme were the renewed emphasis on human capital development (HCD), in which the DST was already investing through the Research Chairs programme, centres of excellence and bursaries. The TYIP had stressed the importance of international partnerships. The DST is in a position to engage with international partners which could enhance cooperation.
At governmental level, the Minister of Economic Development highlighted the need to define a new growth path. In this context, the concepts of a knowledge-based economy and a green economy were important. Practical steps would have to be developed to take forward a knowledge-based green economy, and it is hoped that planned workshops would contribute to the development of the DST Green Economy Strategy.
South Africa needs to enhance its capabilities and grow the area of green chemistry; given the present fiscal constraints on the public purse, this would require a strong business case. Partnerships would be required right from the planning phase and could then be used to attract resources. An important first stage would be the consolidation of existing efforts. It is easier for the DST to fund initiatives where there is strong buy-in from universities, science councils and industry. The DST acknowledged that the model to be used in many areas would entail an initially important role for government funding, which would decline over time as industry increasingly took the initiative. However, industry participation would be important from the outset in supporting the value proposition, for example, by making their laboratories or human resources available. The DST had already successfully implemented measures of this nature in a range of areas, guided by the centres of competence, which establish consortia with a unified voice. The DST not only tries to find new resources but may also modify existing instruments.
A 2010 workshop hosted by DST, revealed that for Green Chemistry to be successful and sustainable in South Africa, the following steps would be important:
In conclusion, Green Chemistry could be sustainable in South Africa. Green Chemistry, unlike Environmental chemistry has the issue of cost attached. By implication it is economically driven and hence sometimes it is referred to as Sustainable Chemistry. Sustainability or sustainable development requires the reconciliation of environmental, social and economic demands - the "three pillars" of sustainability.
Dr. V.O. Nyamori, SACI: Green Division Chair (pictured left)
Dr. W.E. van Zyl, SACI: Green Division Secretary (pictured right)
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