Fluorochemicals can reduce negative balance of payments in the chemical industry

South Africa intends to reduce the negative balance of payments in the chemical industry by supporting focused research and development (R&D), aimed at new process and product development, some of which may help to create new industries.

The country currently supplies around 10% of the global fluorochemical industry’s fluoride requirements worth about US$16 billion a year but captures less than 0,5% of this revenue owing to the low level of local beneficiation.

Addressing the opening of the first symposium on fluorochemicals in Cape Town this morning, the Director-General of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said the conference should put more emphasis on enhancing and broadening local beneficiation efforts, and increasing the country’s share of the global fluorochemicals industry revenue.

Dr Mjwara said South Africa had comparative advantages in mineral resources. For example, it has the world’s largest reserves of fluorspar, estimated at about 41 million tons. In addition, there are niche skills and processes for developing and working with fluorine at the Nuclear Corporation of South Africa (Necsa), and at Pelchem SOC Ltd.

The symposium is part of the government’s Fluorochemicals Expansion Initiative (FEI), which is aimed at developing South Africa’s fluorochemical industry through increased local beneficiation of the country’s fluorspar reserves.

The FEI aims to increase the capacity base and depth of fluorochemical technology through focused R&D projects which could result in a pipeline of novel and viable commercial opportunities.

The DST is hosting the first fluorochemical symposium, titled “The pervasive nature of fluorine and fluorochemicals in the modern world”, in partnership with Pelchem SOC Ltd. Topics in the spotlight include opportunities for fluorides in the nuclear fuel cycle, fluorine chemistry;fluorinecontaining pharmaceuticals and the applications of fluorochemicals.

“It is my hope that this conference will produce new knowledge and business networks, leveraging the government-funded FEI Programme for increased economic impact,” stated Dr Mjwara.

“We would also like to see our strategic partners securing new commercial and industrial financing, generating additional revenue, and supporting small and medium enterprises where possible. We fund technology and innovation development programmes to advance strategic medium and long-term sustainable economic growth towards addressing the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequity in South Africa. Equal investment by our partners in this domain is essential, as this would bolster our efforts substantially.”

The Director-General noted that Pelchem, with chemistry and chemical engineering researchers at the Necsa and the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal, had already commercialised some chemicals and processes produced at the Multipurpose Fluorination Pilot Plant, established by government in 2010 to enable the production of small quantities of chemical products for potential sale.

Acting Managing Director at Pelchem, Mr Rajen Naidoo, said the company currently supplies 25 advanced products to 27 countries on six continents. “We see great opopportunities to expand our product portfolio and capabilities in partnership with government, research institutes and industry. These include products used in lithium ion batteries, active pharmaceutical ingredients, advanced materials and speciality solvents and electronic gasses, among others.”

Delegates include top scientists from Algeria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, United States and Zimbabwe. They have been urged to come up with practical ideas to improve local commercial opportunities for fluorochemicals in the country.

The conference ends on Thursday.

Source: the Department of Science and Technology