Nelson Mandela Bay Composites Cluster MD Andy Radford says the cluster has mapped the value chain for the production and application of basalt in composites.
He says the cluster is at an advanced stage of securing local and global beneficiators and buyers for the mineral for use in composite materials.
“The country, and particularly the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, have vast dolorite reserves, from which global-standard basalt can be viably extracted,” adds Radford.
“Basalt fibre mined from dolerite in the poorest regions of the Eastern Cape could be an economic game changer for the region. Processed at Mthatha, Butterworth, East London or Coega, basalt product such as reinforced bar can be shipped to Europe through France.”
The Nelson Mandela Bay Composites Cluster has the same ambitions for a crop grown largely in KwaZulu-Natal, called kenaf.
Kenaf fibres are used in the production of composite components. These components are used at the Mercedes-Benz plant, in East London, for example.
Radford believes that composites could transform South African communities.
“South Africa has a legacy based on iron, steel and other metals, yet our global competitiveness in steel is marginal. Metals have driven industrial and engineering thinking in South Africa up to now. However, composites can provide new industrial and economic competitive advantages.
We want to showcase these advantages by creating a composites corridor in Port Elizabeth, where composites applications will replace metal and cement, where appropriate.
“From manhole covers, streetpoles and railings to motorised drones, composites are the answer to several age-old problems, while also presenting new opportunities,” states Radford.
“In Africa, composites can be manufactured anywhere. You don’t even need electricity. In fact, rather than using energy, resin-based thermoset manufacturing is exothermic – it gives off heat.”
The Nelson Mandela Bay Composites Cluster is seeking greater collaboration with French companies as part of a government-driven France-South Africa business forum, adds Radford.
France is acknowledged as a global leader in composites within aviation and boat building.
A delegation of ten French companies will visit South Africa on a trade mission from June 27 to 30, focusing on boat building and composites.