CSIR shifts to eco-friendly cleaning products on its campuses – protecting the environment while supporting local innovation

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 00:00

Demonstrating its support of green living and local innovation, the CSIR has successfully implemented the use of a local range of eco-friendly biological cleaning products across most of its campuses. The products were developed by the organisation’s scientists.

Demonstrating its support of green living and local innovation, the CSIR has successfully implemented the use of a local range of eco-friendly biological cleaning products across most of its campuses. The products were developed by the organisation’s scientists.

Three months since the shift away from traditional chemical-based products, an initiative driven by Group Executive: Shared Services Raynold Zondo and his team, the feedback has been very positive, says Dr Raj Lalloo, chief technical officer at OptimusBio. Lalloo, also a chief researcher at the CSIR, was tasked with taking the CSIR technology to market, under guidance from the CSIR’s entrepreneur in residence, Richard Fearon. OptimusBio is a CSIR spin-out company that uses the technology which was developed by the organisation’s Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre.

“Over the last decade, the CSIR has developed a library of indigenous strains of bacteria from the genus Bacillus, which secretes enzymes that break down pollutants found in wastewater. These bacteria can survive as spores for extended periods and have the ability to break down solids and reduce odours,” he says.

According to Lalloo there is a common misconception that all bacteria are bad, while in fact there are many strains of so-called ‘good’ bacteria that have properties which the ecosystem and the human body rely on.

“Our bacteria live in symbiotic relationships with plants and animals in nature and are vital in recycling nutrients. Our researchers perform extensive safety testing on each strain before using a collection of bacteria to augment natural systems. They compile unique combinations of bacteria for specific products, to ensure the highest level of effectiveness, while limiting excessive costs, compared to existing products on the market.

“This approach to innovation that emulates nature’s own patterns and strategies to find sustainable solutions to human challenges such as water scarcity, is called biomimicry. Our indigenous bacteria integrate into natural ecosystems through the principle of bio-augmentation.”

Traditional cleaning products release tons of harsh chemicals and pollutants into the country’s waste water system every day.  Many of these products are not biodegradable and have negative health effects on users.

The CSIR’s propriety technology has been tested to liquefy and degrade solid waste material, industrial and domestic effluents, reduce odour and reduce prevalence of disease-causing pathogens, says CSIR researcher Ghaneshree Moodley, who works on the core technology.

“Core components of the technology include biological screening and selection, applications testing, high-density bacterial fermentation, downstream processing and formulation that yield highly engineered products. The products contain microbial enzymes produced in a self-regulating system, mixed with biodegradable surfactants and they mimic the look and feel of conventional products. The technology helps to start the waste treatment process at its source. It reduces the burden on waste management, improves the well-being of people and preserves the environment,” says Moodley.

Katherine Kirkbride, Manager: Shared Services Operations at the CSIR, says the feedback from the Quatro Cleaning Services staff members who have been using the products since September, has been very positive.

“Some of the cleaning staff have already indicated that the eco-friendly products are not harsh on their hands and they appreciate not being exposed to chemical odours while they work,” she says.

“The CSIR has to maintain its facilities, but the organisation also has responsibility to protect the environment for future generations and provide a healthy workplace for its employees. By using the eco-friendly products, the CSIR also demonstrates its trust in its own research output. Other examples of technology take up are the solar photovoltaic plant which feeds power directly into the Pretoria CSIR campus grid and an inhouse-developed reception kiosk at one of its entrances that uses a biometric system to register visitors,” she says.

OptimusBio, which was launched in 2014, sells eco-friendly biological products for personal care, sanitation, water treatment, aquaculture and agriculture while continuously developing new products in partnership with the CSIR.

The CSIR has also supported the South African National Defence Force to test the OptimusBio products for personal care, cleaning as well as water and waste treatment during remote deployments in the Kruger National Park.

According to Fearon, the creation of a commercially sustainable South African bio-industry is an essential cornerstone of Africa’s future. “OptimusBio has the potential to contribute to projects that could positively impact global standards of living. These include issues such as water sustainability, health and food security, all of which contribute to human kind and its well-being,” he says.

OptimusBio products are sold online, at the Pretoria CSIR campus and are also available in Botswana and Namibia. The company has set up its own manufacturing facility, contributing to local job creation in South Africa’s new biotechnology sector.