Patterns and trends
When Prof Paul Nex presented on ’Critical Raw Materials, “Hype Cycles” and the 4th Industrial Revolution’, he explored context, as well as patterns and trends. He is an Associate Professor: University of the Witwatersrand.
He noted that what is considered ‘critical’ in critical raw metals (CRM) is different for different countries and different contexts and at different times: “Any definition depends on the country you are in, the technology / industry you are interested in, your perceived risk of future supply, and perceived demand. ALL of these are subject to change.”
Certain commodities are seen as critical for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), but global demand for these go through ‘Hype Cycles’. Demand peaks quickly, then drops steeply, and perhaps stabilises at a level in between (or disappears). The prices for such raw materials follow demand. When prices stabilise somewhat, it may no longer be profitable to mine and extract them.
In terms of CRM for South Africa, Prof Nex says that it depends on what South Africa envisages for itself in next 10, 50 and 100 years. Furthermore, we can’t place a value on our raw metals if we don’t know what we have. There isn’t a great deal of information on Africa’s and South Africa’s resources and reserves. This can only happen with further exploration.
CRMs need to be contextualised to see the larger picture. Part of this is their relation to climate change and green technologies. Consider that, according to Prof Nex, electronic vehicles use four times as much copper (Cu) as our current engines. This means ‘green’ needs mining. Furthermore, Prof Nex says that renewable energy requires more raw materials, not less, at least in the short and medium term.
It’s about understanding the larger system for decision making. We need the materials for 4IR and this means mining. At the same time, we need to develop a carbon free or low-carbon economy to reduce the impact on climate change. A lot that is associated with a low-carbon economy (for example, electronic vehicles, renewable energy sources, and fuel-cell energy) are not ‘clean’ solutions. There needs to be a balance and not an ‘either/or’ scenario, says Prof Nex.
What is the DST and the rest of government doing?
DAFF’s Chief Directorate: Chemicals Management is coordinating – across government – the chemicals management work the country needs to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Government is using the SDGs as a framework to look at chemical management from various perspectives. For example, SDG 5 looks at gender equality. This translates to the target of women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities in chemicals management.
This was part of the presentation by Dr Mahlori Mashimbye called ‘Harnessing the South African Chemical Sector for contribution to Sustainable Development Goals’. He is the Director: Chemical and Related Industries, DST.
DST planning includes supporting the National System of Innovation by:
· Generating data for monitoring, planning, and tracking for informed decisions
· Promoting the generation of knowledge and analysis for policy, planning, and delivery
· Assisting in developing and localising technological solutions
· Promoting the demonstration, testing, and diffusion of technological solutions
The DST and the National Research Foundation (NRF) are looking at funding further research, research chairs, and research infrastructure, where needed. They have also launched specific initiatives and are aiming to drive global and national partnerships.
Dr Mashimbye says that there are, primarily, two approaches for the chemical sector regarding the SDGs: remediation (ie regulating including banning and restricting use) and R&D and industrial development of alternatives (ie new environmentally-friendly chemical products).
Speakers can be contacted through the spokesperson, Ms Jansie Niehaus. Video clips with the full presentations can be found on the NSTF website.
There have been previous NSTF Discussion Forums on related topics:
· Chemical elements for South Africa’s Future, 18-19 March 2019
· The Water-Energy-Food Nexus, 23-24 October 2018 – initiated by the representatives of the NSTF Science Councils and Statutory Bodies sector
· Sustainable Energy for All in South Africa, 16-17 April 2018
· How can research and innovation in publicly funded institutions support the sustainable development goals?, 4-5 September 2017 – initiated by the representatives of Science Councils and Statutory Bodies sector of the NSTF