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Report Back: Green Manufacturing Executive Short Course 2021

by | May, 2021

The week of the 11th of April saw TWIMS host its Green Manufacturing Executive Short Course. Liesel Kassier – TWIMS’ Metair Academic Head of Green Manufacturing – led the course which consisted of executives from: Illovo Sugar, Hesto Harnesses, Feltex Automotive, RCL Foods, and Supreme Spring. Three African countries were represented among the course participants with executives coming from South Africa, Eswatini and Malawi.

The course focused on pertinent issues within the green economy debate that are critical to the manufacturing sector. Key topics included: 

  • circular economies, 
  • industrial symbiosis,
  • green supply chains, 
  • measuring externalities, 
  • green manufacturing as a business model, 
  • emerging regulatory requirements, 
  • product lifecycle management, 
  • management philosophies related to sustainable materials. 

Energy was a recurring talking point. Opportunities surrounding wind, solar (both of which are now cheaper than coal on a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) basis), hydrogen and bagasse – in the context of existing challenges to energy supply in the region – were of clear importance. 

The participants enjoyed a field visit to Equator Belts – South Africa’s first member of the local fashion supply chain to receive a Five Star Green Star Certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa. They demonstrated the green initiatives implemented throughout their production processes. This was followed by a visit to the CSIR’s Biorefinery based in Durban which conducts research and development on the extraction of high-value chemicals, biomass and fuels from paper, sugar, and poultry industry waste. 

The course concluded with a syndicate project in which 3 teams each had to develop and present a business case for a green manufacturing innovation within any of their firms. Group 1 designed a business case for “Eco Blocks” – a “greener, stronger, lighter, cheaper” alternative to building bricks. The eco blocks are made from the waste boiler ash produced in sugar mills. Eco Blocks require less sand, water and cement compared to conventional bricks and are ideal for the construction of low-cost affordable housing. Not only did this provide a new potential revenue stream for sugar mills, but it would lead to a massive abatement of capital costs involved with the building and extension of dams used to store waste boiler ash.

Group 2 designed a business case for a biodegradable food packaging material made from excess bagasse (a fibrous pulp leftover from crushing sugarcane). Finally, group 3 designed a business case for the production of lactic acid from excess sugar that is sold on international markets at a loss. Lactic acid is a primary ingredient in the production of polylactic acid (PLA) – an environmentally friendly thermoplastic that is fully recyclable, biodegradable, and non-harmful if incinerated. The production of lactic acid could in turn create further business opportunities for a regional PLA value chain.

It was rewarding to see a high level of engagement with the course as well as a strong intent from all of the participants to take key lessons and practical elements back to their own firms. The participants were unanimous – green and sustainable manufacturing is the future!

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