Bioproducts are essentially materials, chemicals or energy produced from either renewable raw materials or through a biological conversion of synthesized chemicals. Bioproducts are made for various industries including the food and beverage, healthcare and pharmaceutical, packaging, energy, electronics and the general chemical industry. These products range from bulk material such as bioethanol to more specialised products like vaccines for the pharmaceutical industry. There is a continual trend of moving from oil-derived products to bioproducts as both manufacturers and consumers become more sustainable conscious. In South Africa, this trend is supported by the bioeconomy strategy, a plan to integrate bio-conversion from the resource rich country for value addition to the economy.
In CeBER, the bioproducts platform researches on both the feedstock and the product. We continually look into making bioprocesses more sustainable, environmental friendly and profitable. Renewable feedstocks range from 1st generation (e.g. sucrose), 2nd generation (e.g. biomass) or wastewater streams. Areas where CeBER focuses on feedstock currently include the sugar industry, plastics, confectionary and a variety of waste streams in a biorefinery concept. CeBER is also part of the c*change initiative concentrating on paraffin activation.
Bioproducts of interest to CeBER are closely related to the current demand and need of the South African climate. There is a need to investigate value addition to the sugar industry in particular towards the production of platform chemicals, to gear South Africa in manufacturing more of its biopharmaceutical products (i.e. vaccines and biotherapeutics), and to create jobs for the mass by introduction of technology that is easily carried out by semi-skilled workers (e.g. algae ponds).
In order to tie in all the bioproduct work, a synergy of engineering and biotechnology tools are used. These include but not limited to bioreactor design, mass transfer studies, fluid mechanics, techno-economic analysis, process simulation and modelling, and various molecular biology tools. The bioproducts platform in CeBER is an expanding field, with potential to contribute greatly to the knowledge base of bioprocessing for South Africa while constantly innovating processes optimizing production.