Biorefinery Industry Development Facility

The Biorefinery Industry Development Facility focuses on development and testing of biorefinery technologies in the South African context.

Analogous to oil refinery technologies used to produce multiple chemicals and products from crude oil, the principle of biorefinery is to similarly convert biomass into chemicals, biomaterials and fuels, in addition to traditional wood, pulp and paper products.

The development of biorefinery technologies is accomplished via research and development (R&D) collaborations with industry, industry associations, universities, research and technology organisations, as well as partnerships with international entities conducting similar R&D work. The facility has equipment and pilot amenities that enable testing and implementation of technologies for the benefit of industry. It provides technological support that improves the efficiency, sustainability and competitiveness of forest products and biomass industrial processes.

The biorefinery programme is structured around four objectives, namely: infrastructure, technologies to improve industry competitiveness and product quality, the development of new value chains from biomass and human capital development.


A new biorefinery facility was built on the CSIR’s Durban campus in 2016. The facility has cutting-edge analytical and pilot-scale equipment for biorefinery technology development and troubleshooting industrial biomass processing challenges. 

Technologies to improve industry competitiveness and product quality

The biorefinery programme develops technologies destined to make the industry competitive in terms of cost reduction, improved product quality and environmental sustainability. The technologies will lead to significant savings for the industry as well as increased market share and job creation/saving of jobs. The programme supports traditional biomass industrial processes such as pulp, paper and specialised cellulose to improve the resource efficiency, system closure, product quality, and adaption to greener and more economically competitive technologies. 

Development of new value chains

Currently, the forest products industry is extracting about 47% value from trees. This is not environmentally sustainable as it results in the generation of large amounts of waste that have to be disposed of. Development of technologies that create new value chains from these wastes is an important focus of the programme as it has the potential to result in extraction of higher value from trees (>97%). The waste is therefore converted into valuable products that will add additional revenues for mills or result in the creation of new enterprises utilising these waste streams.

Human capital development

The need in South Africa to develop the required chemical engineering and scientific expertise is well recognised and strong public sector co-funding for the programme has been secured. The programme is involved in highly sought-after skills and knowledge in chemistry and chemical engineering and science.

Infrastructure specification

Analytical equipment

  • Accelerated solvent extractor
  • Size exclusion chromatography (Multi-angle laser light scattering with refractive index detector and viscometry measurements)
  • High-performance ion chromatography
  • UV/Vis spectrophotometer
  • CHNS/O analyser
  • Pyrolysis GC/MS
  • MorFi Fibre analyser
  • Simultaneous thermal analyzer
  • High-performance liquid chromatography
  • Centrifuge
  • Ultrasonicator


  • Atomic force microscope
  • Quorum K750X turbo freeze drier
  • Quorum K550X sputter coater
  • Leica UC7 ultramicrotome
  • Nikon fluorescent light microscope
  • Stereo microscope

Biomass processing

  • Low-consistency refiner
  • High-consistency refiner
  • Flow-through digesters
  • Batch digesters
  • Wiley Mill
  • Handsheet formers
  • Ozone generator
  • Ultra-filtration
  • Pyrolysis micro-reactor
Prof. Bruce Sithole

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