Natural resources can be an important source of national wealth to a nation.  The existence of natural resources can be a blessing to economic growth and development of a nation. Natural resources and the environment feature prominently in the exports and overall output of many developing countries and dominate many African national economies.  Valuable natural resources include renewable resources such as water, forestry, and fisheries and non-renewable resources namely minerals.

For the economic growth of a nation to be sustainable, economic growth depends on the level, quality, and management of these natural resources and on the state of the environment.  The state of the environment is dependent on the level and growth of waste streams from industry and other sources.


South Africa’s economic growth has been and will continue to be closely linked to the mining industry. The country is one of the wealthiest in the world in terms of mineral resources.  It is a leading mining country with reserves estimated at $2.5 trillion being the most valuable in the world.

There is acknowledgement that, as a nation, South Africa has under-invested in the development of commercially viable mining technologies over the past several decades. In retrospect, this probably was short-sighted for a country that relies on the commodities produced by the mining industry, for a significant fraction of its GDP, as a provider of jobs and as a major source of export earnings.

In South Africa, important deposits, including gold and platinum have been mined for centuries and decades in underground operations.  However, today the main challenges are the narrow reefs and unprecedented depth.  The mining technology still has not changed in any fundamental way.  These ore are by- and large, still mined using the old conventional methods. The ore is blasted and then scraped.  The blasting has an effect of heavily diluting the ore. This is then transported through ore passes to haulage levels and from there in rail cars and skips where it is hoisted to the surface. Blasting these narrow reefs has an effect of diluting the final ore. This has a downstream impact of extracting the valuable minerals are more expensively in a processing plant and produces more waste.

Environmental and waste management

A review of global and local trends in waste and resources management, and the drivers behind these trends namely, shows that waste generators, waste operators, governments and society recognise the social, environmental and economic benefits of moving waste up the waste management hierarchy.  This is a transition away from landfilling towards prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery of waste strategies.

Waste streams which have been presented as opportunities globally and which are emerging as opportunity streams in South Africa, include organic waste such as food waste, biomass and sewage and recyclables such as plastic, metal, glass, paper, electronic waste and tyres. These waste streams are recognised for their secondary resource potential hence are being targeted for diversion from landfill into materials and energy recovery.

Studies show that different technology solutions are being adopted in this diversion waste from landfill. The technology mix is broadly energy and materials recoveries.

The preference in waste streams and technology solutions targeted for waste diversion is largely influenced by what makes local economic sense. Factors that affect/ influence these choice/ preference may include the quantities and types of waste generated, the local cost of technology solutions including the development thereof, the value of waste streams to local markets, the available skills, the local policy environment, and the local climate for business and investment. The more advanced economies are investing in high-technology solutions such as plasma and gasification while most developing countries seem to favour low technology solutions such as composting.

Environmental problems are therefore complex and addressing them requires an integrated approach using a broad skills and expertise base. TIA endeavours to fund science/engineering-based solutions to the challenging environmental and natural resource issues facing society now and in the future.

Water Resources

Research has been a fundamental contributor to understanding South Africa’s water resources and developing many of the techniques and tools used for water management.   Currently, the water sector in South Africa faces new and urgent challenges. Of these, the most pressing is the scarcity of the resource.  South Africa is considered a dry country and is characterised by persistent drought spells.  The other issues are of inequitable access, and the deterioration of water resource quality through industrial and domestic pollution.


The role of the focus areas would be to improve the competitiveness of the existing economic sectors through supporting innovation and commercialisation of technologies and processes.  In the long term, the interventions would support the development of new-cutting edge and knowledge intensive sectors and firms while providing an improved quality of life for all South Africans.

Operational Objectives

  • Efficient, safe and competitive production: Use advanced technologies to improve process efficiencies from mineral exploration to final product and reduce worker exposure to hazard as well as maintain as maintain a competitive and sustainable mining sector
  • Environmental and health management: Support the development of technologies to minimise the impact from mining and other activities on its workforce, the environment and the community
  • Minerals upgrading and value addition: Support the upgrading and the value addition of South Africa’s minerals, also by encouraging local manufacturing and production
  • Water Desalination: to increase the use of desalinated water sources, including wastewater, mine water, brackish water, and seawater
  • Water Recycling processes and technologies: to increase the volume of wastewater being reused and / or recycled
  • Groundwater technologies: to Maximise use of rain water harvesting, groundwater and the artificial recharge of groundwater/ aquifers
  • Environmental solutions for a green economy, adapting to and mitigating climate change
  • Lateral migration: Exploit the knowledge and capacity in the mining sector to create new high value economic sectors
  • Innovation culture through skills development: To facilitate the development of innovation skills to support technology innovation and commercialisation. To provide the country with supportive knowledge via completed R&D, from fundamental research, through applied research, to demonstration via different iniatives and programmes  to implementation

Thought leadership- Provide and participate in national initiative and forums while continually keeping tabs with developments in technologies globally as well as strengthen linkages between research organisations in the NSI

Focus areas

Mineral processing

Mineral value addition

Water resources management

Environmental and waste management

Contact our Business Unit

Nelisa Kente – Coordinator

Tel: 012 472 2895


Exciting Innovations

Settle Bed Detector

The Settled Bed Detector is being developed by Settec Mining and Industrial Solutions (Pty) Ltd, to develop and perform trial tests of the Settled Bed Detection Probe for the identification of slurry settlement on mines and oil sands industries. The main objective of this technology is to detect slurry settlement in pipes, and electronically relay a message to inform the pump control system to vary the pump speed, thus help avoid and prevent possible pipe blockages from occurring.

In South Africa alone, about 150 million tons of gold and platinum ore mine tailings material is pumped in slurry form to tailings dams per year, often a few kilometres away from the metallurgical plant. To avoid settlement of the tailings during hydraulic transportation, the pipelines are operated with a safety margin above the critical deposition velocity, hence the development of the energy optimiser that this project was based on.


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