Biorefinery entails using wood biomass to extract maximum value from the wood with minimal wastage. Thus, in addition to traditional forestry, tree, pulp and paper products, value is extracted from waste and by-products to produce high-value chemicals and other products that would help to revitalise the industry.

Currently, biorefinery in South Africa’s pulp and paper industry is practiced on a very limited scale. Wood, pulp and paper waste ends up in landfill sites or is burnt, stockpiled, or even pumped out to sea, and the potential to extract value from it, is not realised. Large amounts of greenhouse gases are released from the waste, with the associated health and environmental risks. Additionally, the country is running out of landfill space. High-value speciality chemicals can be extracted from sawmill and dust shavings, while mill sludge can be converted into nanocrystalline cellulose, biopolymers, and biogas.

Currently, the conversion of trees into wood, pulp and paper products is inefficient in that only about 47% of a tree mass is used with the remainder being lost as waste. Analogous to oil refinery technologies, whereby multiple chemicals and products are produced from crude oil, the principle of biorefinery is to similarly convert biomass into chemicals, biomaterials and fuels. In response to this development opportunity and the technology needs of the forests products sector, the CSIR initiated a biorefinery research and development (R&D) programme.

The programme builds on existing CSIR expertise and facilities in forest products research and a new world-class biorefinery R&D facility, built at the CSIR in Durban, close to the regional centre of biomass production in South Africa. The programme will help reduce the barriers and risks for existing and new industry players (both large and small) in developing, testing and adapting biorefinery technologies to South African biomass sources, socio-economic and environmental conditions.

CSIR expertise drawn on in this area includes chemistry, chemical engineering, biology, as well as pulp and papermaking technologies. CSIR researchers are focusing on the characterisation and analyses of biomass and the utilisation of biomass from forestry, pulp and paper mills for the development of new higher value products.

For more information, contact:

Dr Bruce Sithole
E-mail: bsithole@csir.co.za
Tel: +27 (0)31 242 2325


The CSIR is committed to supporting innovation in South Africa to improve national competitiveness in the global economy, and has partnered with industry and the University of KwaZulu-Natal to promote development and expansion of biorefinery technologies in the country.