Research & Innovation

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Research & Innovation

The mandate of the Research and Innovation Division (R&I) is to grow and maintain core research capacity in line with the Necsa mandate on the following nuclear, radiation and related fields. The three research focus areas in R&I is Radiation and Reactor Theory (RRT), Applied Chemistry (AC) and Applied Radiation (AR). Through these focus areas, the R&I Division contributes primarily to the intellectual capital of Necsa. This is accomplished via the main research outputs in the form of innovation disclosures, peer-reviewed publications and technical and contract research reports.

R&I is tasked to focuss on technology development and services with income generating potential, to grow the financial capital of Necsa. In line with this goal, R&I has a steadily growing number of clients that are served through contract research. The Necsa Subsidiaries, in particular, are provided with focused research support in order to maintain a competitive advantage and to expand their existing product portfolio. A systems-engineering approach (based on Technology Readiness Levels) to product development is followed. Core science and technology activities are supported by project and programme management. In order to benchmark and strengthen own capabilities, close collaboration with national and international collaborators is actively pursued. Safety, Quality, Health, and Environment are of uncompromising essence to R&I.

R&I is committed to develop and maintain a group of highly qualified and skilled employees in order to comply with its mandate of maintaining a core research capacity. It is the responsibility of these highly skilled researchers to ensure that the Necsa Group is on the forefront with regard to new technologies and being innovative in their development of new products. The main research outputs and list of publications are proof of the contribution to intellectual capital by the R&I Division.

R&I further contributes to the intellectual capital of Necsa, by housing the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT), which is mandated in terms of the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act 2008 (Act 51 of 2008) to facilitate the identification, protection and exploitation (or commercialisation) of intellectual property (IP) developed and owned by Necsa. This makes R&I an important player in the National System of Innovation (NSI) with regards to establishing a knowledge-based economy with specific emphasis on the nuclear and radiation sciences.

Human capital is supported via collaborations with local and international universities for formal training / education of staff and by providing training, mentoring and supervision to students outside of Necsa. In support of social and relationship capital, R&I attended and contributed to numerous conferences and workshops, locally and internationally. R&I contributes to the manufacturing capital of Necsa by supporting Necsa subsidiaries in developing their manufacturing capabilities. Various processes to manage and beneficiate waste streams are under development to support growth of natural capital.

The success of the R&I division strongly leverages an extensive stakeholder network.

Using this network, and combining it with the in-house skill base, an holistic research and development service is provided to Necsa and the South African Nuclear industry at large. To accomplish this, the research and technology development in R&I is structured into three focus areas, run as independent but synergistic departments, namely Radiation and Reactor Theory, Applied Chemistry and Applied Radiation.


Radiation and Reactor Theory Focus Area

The Radiation & Reactor Theory (RRT) focus area provides calculational and analysis services in reactor neutronics, thermal-hydraulics, criticality, shielding, activation and isotope production, both to Necsa and external clients. Furthermore, RRT develops, hosts and manages the Overall System for the Calculation of Reactors (OSCAR) reactor calculational platform that is used inhouse and by various nuclear institutions around the world to model their respective reactors. Both of these activities leverage on a strong technology platform in radiation transport and reactor modelling and simulation in RRT, maintained through an active research program. In general, these programs contribute to the strategic thematic areas of Neutron Source Generation Projects, Radioisotopes and Pharmaceutical Business Sustainability, Advanced Manufacturing, Nuclear and Related Technology Applications, Energy Projects as well as Waste Projects.


Applied Chemistry Focus Area

Applied Chemistry

The main focus of the Applied Chemistry Department is the development of commercial processes, contract research and to maintain the basic chemistry technology platforms required by Necsa. These projects are aligned to the following Strategic Thematic Areas as per the Necsa Corporate Plan: Advanced Manufacturing, Nuclear and Related Technology Applications; Fluorochemical Business Sustainability; Waste Projects and Energy Projects. The current mandate for the department is to develop process up to technology readiness level (TRL) 4. This implies a laboratory scale integrated proof of concept level. As in the past few years, most of the effort was focused on contract research for internal and external customers.

Main core skills areas are in nuclear fuel cycle-related materials beneficiation; plasma-based material modification and processing; waste conditioning technology; and fluorine technology. Important National System of Innovation (NSI) programmes, such as the Energy Storage Programme and the Advanced Materials Initiative (AMI) programmes of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) reaped significant benefit from the research involvement of the Applied Chemistry focus area, through R&I’s specialised core skills.


Applied Radiation Focus Area

Applied Radiation

Applied Radiation is a recently formed focus area that is a combination of the Radiochemistry group and certain groups from Radiation Science. The focus area contributes to the strategic thematic areas of Radioisotopes and Pharmaceutical Business Sustainability as well as Advanced Manufacturing, Nuclear and Related Technology Applications. It further focuses on the development of radiopharmaceuticals for oncology and infection and inflammation imaging by translating fundamental research performed to commercial outcomes. Groups that are involved with product development continued to perform pipeline research to retain and enhance Necsa’s status as an internationally competitive radiochemical isotope producer, thus contributing to enhancing quality of life. Besides the development of radiochemicals (precursors for radiopharmaceuticals), the emphasis has shifted further down the value chain to the development of new radiopharmaceuticals. Technology from several product development programmes have matured to culminate in commercial outcomes.  At early technology readiness levels, these are supported by funded technology platforms/clusters to enable the required NSI and industry partnerships. Besides the involvement in commercially orientated research, fundamental research, that lays the basis for future innovations and products, continues.

Applied Radiation houses the Necsa Beam Line Centre, which develops and uses techniques to optimize utilization of neutron and X-ray radiation as non-destructive probes to investigate objects and materials for pure and applied research. This is of particular benefit in Heritage studies where the full elemental composition of fossilised samples can be obtained (without destruction, which is of long-term benefit to this field). The Diffraction laboratory at Necsa offers unique capabilities within the African continent by enabling the utilisation of thermal neutron beams and laboratory generated X-ray beam techniques as complementary probes of crystalline materials at the microstructural level. Equipped with four modern instruments dedicated to applications such as chemical phase identification, chemical phase quantification, magnetic phenomena, as well as residual stress analyses, the facilities are instrumental in the non-destructive determination of depth-resolved stresses in additive manufactured components produced using different build techniques and strategies. In addition, these have contributed to the benchmarking of predictive models.

Applied Radiation further utilises radiation-based science (including accelerator-based particle beams) to provide non-destructive solutions for industrial and mining problems, with a number of exciting new applications of this technology currently being brought forward to higher levels of technology readiness.

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