Celebrating chemistry

January 26 marked the centenary celebration of the South African Chemical Institute (SACI), an event proudly heralded by chemists throughout South Africa. Institute president, Professor James Darkwa, expressed the view that South Africans need to change their negativity with regard to chemistry – and in all its many aspects. Said Darkwa: “We receive 40 percent of our oil from Sasol and their waste products make many of our rubbers, waxes and plastics. How are we not proud? South Africans are quick to complain about the potholes that appear on our roads but do they know where the bitumen (tar) comes from? I’ve seen enough of Africa and the world to know South Africa has it all.”

Sasol was also mentioned by University of Cape Town Chemistry Department head Susan Bourne, who said it was the only company in South Africa to practise the Fischer-Tropsch method, by which coal and natural gas are synthesised into fuel. South Africa is a country with little oil and therefore Sasol was making the most of the country’s other natural resources.

Another prominent issue was the electronic era and the positive and negative effects it has had on the chemical industry. Professor James Bull said: “Academic subvention had become a scholarly farce, with over 209 academic journals flooding the industry every year in South Africa – this world has become too glamorous.”  Emphasis was also placed on the importance of “green” chemistry and its future.

However, the most outstanding point of the evening was when Bourne presented the gathering with a document that outlined the ratio of waste versus product produced. Pharmaceutical companies are leading with the most amount of waste produced – and leading by a large margin. We’re quick to point a finger at petrol and oil refineries but we’ve never considered the pharmaceutical industry. SHEQ will definitely do a follow up on that worrying aspect.

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